Friday, August 19, 2016

Manafort’s Man In Kiev

The Trump campaign chairman’s closeness to a Russian Army-trained linguist turned Ukrainian political operative is raising questions, concerns.


By Kenneth P. Vogel
Politico
August 19, 2016

In an effort to collect previously undisclosed millions of dollars he’s owed by an oligarch-backed Ukrainian political party, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been relying on a trusted protégé whose links to Russia and its Ukrainian allies have prompted concerns among Manafort associates, according to people who worked with both men.

The protégé, Konstantin Kilimnik, has had conversations with fellow operatives in Kiev about collecting unpaid fees owed to Manafort’s company by a Russia-friendly political party called Opposition Bloc, according to operatives who work in Ukraine.

A Russian Army-trained linguist who has told a previous employer of a background with Russian intelligence, Kilimnik started working for Manafort in 2005 when Manafort was representing Russian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, a gig that morphed into a long-term contract with Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-aligned hard-liner who became president of Ukraine.

Kilimnik eventually became “Manafort’s Manafort” in Kiev, and he continued to lead Manafort’s office there after Yanukovych fled the country for Russia in 2014, according to Ukrainian business records and interviews with several political operatives who have worked in Ukraine’s capital. Kilimnik and Manafort then teamed up to help promote Opposition Bloc, which rose from the ashes of Yanukovych’s regime. The party is funded by oligarchs who previously backed Yanukovych, including at least one who the Ukrainian operatives say is close to both Kilimnik and Manafort.

Kilimnik has continued advising Opposition Bloc, which opposes Ukraine’s teetering pro-Western government, even as the party stopped fully paying Manafort’s firm, leaving it unable to pay some of its employees and rent, according to people familiar with the firm and its relationship to Opposition Bloc.

All the while, Kilimnik has told people that he remains in touch with his old mentor. He told several people that he traveled to the United States and met with Manafort this spring. The trip and alleged meeting came at a time when Manafort was immersed in helping guide Trump’s campaign through the bitter Republican presidential primaries, and was trying to distance himself from his work in Ukraine.

Russia and its relationship with Ukraine have emerged as a major issue in the race as have Manafort’s connections in the region. Allies of Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton have sought to use Trump’s stances on, and ties to, Russia to cast him as the preferred candidate of one of the U.S.’ top geopolitical foes.

That criticism intensified last month after a series of events. First, Trump’s campaign gutted a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that called for the U.S. to provide “lethal defensive weapons” for Ukraine to defend itself against Russian incursion, backers of the measure charged. The move defied a strong GOP consensus on the issue. Then, the U.S. government blamed Russia for a politically damaging hack of the Democratic National Committee, and finally Trump called for Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, though he later said he was “being sarcastic.”

Joking aside, Trump has demonstrated more interest in Russia’s affairs than in perhaps any other area of foreign policy. And his laissez faire approach toward Russia’s confrontational relations with its neighbors, combined with his open admiration of its authoritarian President Vladimir Putin and his employment of Manafort, have led experts from across the political spectrum to predict that a Trump presidency would augur to the Kremlin’s benefit.

With Trump receiving his first classified security briefings, and concerns about him spiking in the intelligence community, talk of Kilimnik’s connections to Russian intelligence — combined with his affiliation with the Russia-allied Opposition Bloc — could become a liability for Trump, predict associates of Manafort and Kilimnik.

That’s quite a turnabout from Manafort’s work in Ukraine, where Kilimnik’s Russian military background was seen as an advantage in working for the pro-Russian Yanukovych.

“There was a time that that didn’t bother us because our interests converged, but then at the end when Yanukovych was going down the wrong path, our interests diverged, and for whatever reasons, Paul kept him on,” one operative close to Manafort said of Kilimnik.

**

Kilimnik, a short man who goes by “Kostya” or sometimes “KK,” was born in the sprawling industrial city of Kriviy Rikh, Ukraine, in 1970, back when Ukraine was still a part of the Soviet Union.

Kilimnik attended a Soviet military school where he learned to speak fluent Swedish and English, which complemented the Russian and Ukrainian he already spoke. He joined the Russian Army as a translator, work that closely aligned him with the army’s intelligence services — an account pieced together from a handful of people who worked with him or were briefed on his background, including a former senior CIA official with direct knowledge of Kilimnik’s activities.

But the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, when Kilimnik was only 21, and it’s unclear whether he spent much time in active service. After the dissolution of the Communist-controlled country, Kilimnik bounced around a bit, doing freelance translating, until eventually landing a job in 1995 in the Moscow office of the International Republican Institute. The nonprofit group, which has branches around the world, works with political parties and candidates to bolster the democratic process — a mission viewed with suspicion in post-Communist Russia.

Kilimnik did not hide his military past from his new employer. In fact, when he was asked how he learned to speak such fluent English, he responded “Russian military intelligence,” according to one IRI official, who quipped, “I never called [the Russian military intelligence agency] GRU headquarters for a reference.”

It soon became an article of faith in IRI circles that Kilimnik had been in the intelligence service, according to five people who worked in and around the group in Moscow, who said Kilimnik never sought to correct that impression.

“It was like ‘Kostya, the guy from the GRU’ — that’s how we talked about him,” said a political operative who worked in Moscow at the time. “The institute was informed that he was GRU, but it didn’t matter at the time because they weren’t doing anything sensitive.”

IRI spokeswoman Julia Sibley confirmed that Kilimnik worked at IRI but wouldn’t comment on his background, explaining “Mr. Kilminik hasn’t worked with IRI in over a decade and has no affiliation with us.”

Kilimnik — presented with a series of questions about his background, his relationship with Manafort and his current work — declined to comment.

People who worked with Kilimnik at IRI and in subsequent jobs describe him as an easygoing person and a brilliant linguist who was not prone to braggadocio, at least early in his career. They also say he was largely non-ideological or, if he was driven by any particular ideology, it was not easily detectable. For instance, they say he didn’t come across as opposed to the democratization of Russia, but nor did he appear to be an ardent reformer.

“He took the job at IRI for the money, not because he believed in the mission,” said another former IRI official. “When there was better more lucrative employment, he took that.”

In fact, Kilimnik, while still employed by IRI, did accept a second, higher-paying job translating and interpreting for a Manafort team that was working for the pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch — and leading Yanukovych backer — Akhmetov in early 2005, according to four people who worked in or around IRI at the time.

Kilimnik “was always smart enough to get close to the money, and there was good money working for Akhmetov,” said a fellow Russian who was a longtime acquaintance.

At the time, Akhmetov was assembling a team of consultants to burnish the reputation of his business. It was facing regulatory action from a new government that had taken over when Yanukovych, who had been prime minister, lost his hold on power after his party tried to rig an October 2004 election to make him president.

Kilimnik was recruited to join Manafort’s team by a former IRI official named Philip M. Griffin, who had worked with Kilimnik at the institute. When IRI officials found out, they asked Kilimnik to resign for violating the nonprofit’s moonlighting prohibition. Several people around IRI say they suspected the institute regarded Kilimnik as too closely allied with Russia — even before he went to work for Akhmetov.

Whatever the reason, IRI employees were warned not to associate with Kilimnik after his resignation in April 2005, even though he continued to travel in the same circles as the group’s officials, according to one former IRI employee.

“I was advised that this is not a person that I want to be having a conversation with — that he could not be trusted,” the former employee said.

By the time Kilimnik left IRI, he had a wife and two children living in a modest house near Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.

He started spending more time in Kiev and apart from his family, and he eventually started adopting a flashier lifestyle. He hung out with the political movers and shakers in the city’s Hyatt hotel and was ferried around town by a chauffeur in European luxury sedans. He started wearing expensive suits and began living in a lavish mansion with a pool.

The lifestyle was sort of a JV version of the jet-setting existence of his boss, Manafort. Kilimnik and Manafort would work closely together over the next decade, traveling together and developing a bond that associates say continues to this day.

**

Manafort, now 67, made his name helping Republican presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s. But he spent most of the past three decades carving out a lucrative niche as a globe-trotting consultant to deep-pocketed foreign politicians and businessmen often looking to buff away stains on their reputations from allegations of corruption, plundering or human rights abuses. Among the boldfaced names in his client portfolio were Angolan guerilla army leader Jonas Savimbi, and former presidents Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.

But those jobs would pale — both in terms of financial reward and degree of difficulty — to the gig to which Akhmetov referred Manafort and his team: returning Yanukovych to power.

A former trucking official who had been convicted and incarcerated as a teenager for serious crimes, Yanukovych had become a popular symbol of the corruption that plagues Ukraine after his team tried to rig the 2004 presidential election. A series of protests, which became known as the Orange Revolution, forced a re-vote, which Yanukovych lost.

While Manafort initially protested that Yanukovych was too deeply flawed to revive, Akhmetov eventually prevailed upon his American consultant to help Yanukovych and his political party, the Party of Regions, try to make a comeback in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

Manafort and his team, including Kilimnik, set about to recast Yanukovych as an inspiring leader who could work with the West. Under Manafort’s guidance, Yanukovych began studying English, and communicated in Ukrainian with the pro-European western part of the country, while using Russian to push pro-Russian themes in the east, which is linguistically, culturally and religiously aligned with Russia.

Manafort also implemented polling, micro-targeting and get-out-the-vote strategies that are de rigueur in American politics, but which Yanukovych had not previously used. Manafort even coached Yanukovych on his appearance, reportedly urging him to start blow-drying his hair, though one Manafort associate called the blow-drying claim a myth that was “total bullshit.”

Remarking on the transformation, a U.S. diplomat, in a hacked cable posted on WikiLeaks, wrote that the “Party of Regions is working to change its image from that of a haven for mobsters into that of a legitimate political party. Tapping the deep pockets of [Akhmetov], Regions has hired veteran K Street political help for its ‘extreme makeover’ effort … [Manafort’s firm] is among the political consultants that have been hired to do the nipping and tucking.”

Kilimnik was key to this effort, according to several people who worked with the team.

“The language was so important because you wanted to capture the nuances,” said one operative who worked with Manafort for the Party of Regions. “And because Paul doesn’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, he always had to have someone like that with him in meetings, so KK was with him all the time. He was very close to Paul and very trusted.”

The Party of Regions won the most seats in the 2006 parliamentary elections, and again in 2007 elections, paving the way for Yanukovych’s re-ascension as prime minister.

Manafort’s team began parlaying their connections into business ventures in the region, with Manafort and Rick Gates, who is now Manafort’s right-hand man on the Trump campaign, in late 2006 creating a private-equity fund in the Cayman Islands. The fund, called Pericles, used millions of dollars contributed by the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to purchase a Ukrainian cable and internet company.

But the venture soon collapsed. And, in a Cayman Islands legal filing to recoup Deripaska’s cash, lawyers named Kilimnik as one of seven “key individuals” involved in the partnership along with Manafort, Gates, and a handful of then-associates. Gates declined to comment.

A lawyer involved in the effort to recoup the investment didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Manafort entered into other ventures with other oligarchs, as well. And the operative who worked with Manafort’s team said, “These guys had a lot of stuff going on outside the campaign context, and KK was involved in all of that as well.”

In 2009, Yanukovych declared his candidacy for president in the following year’s elections. Manafort beefed up the operation running out of his Kiev office, and Kilimnik began playing a bigger part, orchestrating key campaign logistics in a way that transcended his initial role as translator and interpreter.

Throughout the Yanukovych campaigns, the operative said, “There was no secret that [Kilimnik] had been in the intelligence services back in the Soviet Union. He would talk about it. Others on the campaign — Paul, Phil Griffin, Rick Gates — they were pretty open about his background.” But the operative added, “The view was that they were all in the Soviet Union at one point in time, and now they’re Ukrainian and they’re trying to get something going in their own country.”

When Yanukovych finally won the presidency in 2010, he shelved his promises about adopting a more open, pro-Western government. He moved to exert increased control over the media, as well as the legislative and judicial branches of government, the latter of which prosecuted, convicted and jailed his vanquished 2010 election rival. He backed away from a commitment to the European Union, and moved closer to Russia, eventually accepting a $15-billion aid package from the Kremlin.

Some on Manafort’s team began raising concerns about Kilimnik’s background in the Russian military and rumored affiliation with the country’s intelligence service.

Griffin, who did not respond to a request for comment, had been serving as Manafort’s deputy, but he left the team for another consulting gig in 2011. Kilimnik assumed many of his duties, taking charge of Manafort’s Kiev office and running the operation while Manafort was out of the country, which was much of the time, according to people who worked with and around Manafort’s firm.

Unrest was spreading in Ukraine as activists alleged rampant corruption and plundering by Yanukovych’s regime and demanded closer ties with Europe, while Russia sought to exert more control.

But Manafort continued working for the Party of Regions, and he and Kilimnik continued traveling the country together. The pair flew aboard a private jet to Crimea for a day in mid-2013, according to Ukrainian border control records and a flight manifest.

The Party of Regions paid Manafort’s firm millions of dollars a year, multiple sources said.

Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency obtained documents showing that from 2007 through 2012, Yanukovych’s party had earmarked $12.7 million in off-books cash payments for Manafort, The New York Times revealed this week.

Manafort, who’s been criticized by some former colleagues for prioritizing cash over principles, rejected the report. He asserted in a statement that “the suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly, and nonsensical.”

The statement stressed that in his domestic and overseas campaign work, “all of the political payments directed to me were for my entire political team: campaign staff (local and international), polling and research, election integrity and television advertising.”

**

Yanukovych’s reign came to an abrupt end in early 2014, when widespread protests over corruption and a demand for more integration with Europe prompted him to step down and flee to Russia under Putin’s protection.

But Yanukovych’s exile wasn’t the end for Manafort and Kilimnik. They began working for Opposition Bloc, which won some seats in Parliament during an October 2014 election.

Manafort this week issued a statement declaring that his “work in Ukraine ceased following the country’s parliamentary elections in October 2014.” But his trips to Ukraine continued, according to entry data reviewed by POLITICO and interviews with people who worked with or around Manafort in the country; Manafort traveled to Kiev several times after that election, all the way through late 2015. And one Russian-language media report indicated that he offered advice to Opposition Bloc politicians in late 2015.

Asked about the report and whether his travels to Ukraine last year contradicted his claim that he ceased working in Ukraine after the 2014 elections, Manafort told POLITICO via text message: “I had no contract and did no business after 2014 elections.”

He did not respond to questions about his relationship with Kilimnik, the unpaid bills from Opposition Bloc or whether his protégé’s background was a cause for concern.

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Opposition Bloc.

Ukrainian political insiders say that Kilimnik did continue working for Opposition Bloc after the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Kilimnik has represented Opposition Bloc in meetings with international diplomats, according to several people in the international business and diplomat community in Kiev, where Kilimnik is regarded as an important liaison both to Opposition Bloc and to an influential oligarch who is playing a leading role in the party. “From 2013, he was the face of the organization here,” said one operative in Kiev.

At some point, Opposition Bloc had stopped paying what it had owed Manafort’s firm, according to people familiar with the situation. They said that the party still owes Manafort’s company a significant amount of money.

One person with direct knowledge of the unpaid bills wouldn’t say how much was owed to Manafort, but said, “It’s an amount you would definitely want it in your bank account.” Another person who has discussed the unpaid bills with people close to Manafort said the amount was in the “millions” of dollars.

When the party stopped paying its bills, Manafort’s Kiev office, which was being run by Kilimnik, began running late on its rent and employees’ salaries, according to several people familiar with the situation.

“They didn’t pay the Ukrainian office. They didn’t pay rent or salary for people,” said a person who worked in the office.

Another former team member said “KK is averse to conflict, so when the money wasn’t coming in, he just went dark and that pissed a lot of people off.” The former team member recalled that when Manafort traveled to Kiev in 2015 to try to secure the cash he was owed, he was “ambushed” in the lobby of the city’s Hyatt hotel by the landlord for his office demanding back rent.

Some U.S. foreign policy types see Kilimnik as a reasonable representative of an oligarch who can be reasoned with, and they discount talk about his ties to Russian intelligence.

“I always understood that he was in the Russian Army intelligence for a couple years,” said an international political consultant, who has worked with Kilimnik, and who stressed that, at the time, all Russian men were required to serve in the military. But the consultant added, “I don’t think it was as big a deal as people made it out to be.”

Bill Browder, an American-born investor whose business in Russia led to him being blacklisted by Putin’s regime as a national security threat, differed. “It’s not like you can say, 'I used to work for [Russian intelligence].' It’s a permanent affiliation. There is no such thing as a former [Russian intelligence] officer.”


Article Link To Politico:

Manafort’s Man In Kiev

Could Things Get Any Worse For The GOP? Trump’s Campaign Shake-Up Says Yes.

By Eugene Robinson
The Washington Post
August 19, 2016

Shaken by the fact that he’s losing, Donald Trump has fled into the parallel universe of the extreme right — and apparently plans to stay there for the remainder of the campaign. Let’s see if the rest of the Republican Party is dumb enough to follow him.

Trump has reportedly been feeling “boxed in” and “controlled” by the few people around him who actually know something about politics. Advice from these professionals to tone it down must be responsible for his slide in the polls, he seems to believe. So he has hired as chief executive of his campaign a man named Stephen Bannon, who will not only let Trump be Trump but also encourage him to be even Trumpier.

Bannon runs Breitbart News, a website that creates its own ultranationalist far-right reality — one that often bears little resemblance to the world as it really is. As I write, the site is claiming that Hillary Clinton has some serious undisclosed health problem (her doctor says she is just fine), that one of Clinton’s aides has “very clear ties” to radical Islam (which is totally untrue) and that Clinton herself has “clear ties” to Russian President Vladimir Putin (when in fact it is Trump who often reveals his man-crush on the Russian leader).

The site’s since-deceased founder, Andrew Breitbart, once “described Bannon, with sincere admiration, as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement,” according to a Bloomberg News profile. Riefenstahl was the brilliant filmmaker who became one of Hitler’s most effective propagandists. I think the comparison is wrong; Bannon is not nearly as talented.

He is a practiced provocateur, however, with a gift for reinforcing the worldview of far-right true believers. Bannon gives readers the impression that the nation is in grave and imminent peril, that Muslims are conspiring to impose sharia law throughout the land, that Mexican immigrants are running rampant in a wild crime spree, that only Trump can save us — and that polls showing him far behind Clinton are somehow skewed, incompetent or irrelevant.

None of this is true, not a word. It’s all a paranoid fantasy, designed to exploit anxieties about demographic and economic change. And Trump has decided that his best chance of winning is to peddle this garbage, some of which he may actually believe.

So if anyone was wondering whether this election cycle could get any worse for the GOP, it just did.

The fact is that not a single national poll since July 24 has shown Trump in the lead, according to the tally kept by RealClearPolitics. Clinton has also pulled ahead in all of the battleground states and has become competitive in traditional Republican strongholds such as Georgia and Arizona.

It now appears to be a good bet that Republicans will lose control of the Senate. It is far too early to predict a “wave” election that might threaten the GOP’s big majority in the House, but Democrats are allowing themselves to dream. For Republicans, the two most likely outcomes of the election are bad and worse.

Trump’s decision to throw in with the likes of Bannon can only increase the probability of a GOP debacle. Does it have to be spelled out for you in neon lights, Republicans? Trump could not care less about the party, and he would happily destroy it to feed his own ego.

Bannon, likewise, appears to view the party of Lincoln as merely a vehicle for his own ambition, which is to nurture and grow a nationalist-right movement. His website is as critical of the Republican establishment as it is of the Democrats. He has no interest in making Trump more palatable to the general electorate. Like all would-be revolutionaries, he first wants to heighten the contradictions within the system he ultimately seeks to destroy.

It was perhaps foolish of me to hope that very many Republican elected officials would reject Trump on principle. But now, perhaps, more will do so for reasons of self-preservation.

Trump has made his decision. In a town hall meeting this week moderated by Sean Hannity of Fox News, Trump ignored opportunities to embrace traditional American values and instead reinforced a message of nationalism, xenophobia and fear. He offered himself as the only solution, promising, like any tinhorn strongman, that “I have as big a heart as anybody.”

But there is no room in that heart for the GOP. Trump won’t save you, Republicans. You had better save yourselves.


Article Link To The Washington Post:

Rove: Shuffling Deck Chairs On The USS Trump

A new campaign team can help Donald only if he decides to stay out of petty feuds.


By Karl Rove
The Wall Street Journal
August 19, 2016

In the movie “City Slickers,” Jack Palance tells Billy Crystal that the secret of life is “One thing, just one thing. You stick to that, and everything else don’t mean s—.” When Mr. Crystal asks what that “one thing” is, the old cowboy replies, “That’s what you gotta figure out.”

As Donald Trump shakes up his campaign’s management team for the second time in two months, maybe the new crowd—and, more importantly, Mr. Trump—will finally figure out that the “one thing” of a presidential campaign is message discipline. Without it, Mr. Trump has caused controversy after controversy, generating loads of dreadful media coverage.

Since the Republican convention in July, Mr. Trump has delivered two major policy addresses. But by themselves, speeches are not nearly enough. They must be part of a comprehensive narrative that explains his views in depth, contrasts them with Hillary Clinton’s, and leads swing and undecided voters to his side. The same story must be delivered by the candidate’s appearances, advocates, advertising and other campaign activity. That’s not happening.

Take last week’s economic address in Detroit. Delivered from a teleprompter, it was generally well received. Mr. Trump outlined his agenda in broad terms, covering tax reform, trade agreements, a moratorium on new regulations and increased domestic energy production.

He should have spent subsequent days fleshing it out. For example, he could have devoted Tuesday to explaining how tax reform would create jobs and Wednesday to visiting families hurt by ObamaCare. On Thursday, after Mrs. Clinton’s own economic speech called for new “infrastructure” spending, Mr. Trump could have mocked her ideas as a return of President Obama’s failed 2009 stimulus package. Then on Friday he could have appeared with workers angry about unfair trade practices. This kind of schedule would have presented Mr. Trump with a mix of different backgrounds and surrogates in support of his theme. That’s how a successful campaign does things.

Instead, Mr. Trump lost control of the narrative with his erratic utterances. On Tuesday he told a rally that “Second Amendment people” might prevent a future President Hillary Clinton from filling Supreme Court vacancies. On Wednesday he advanced a blame-the-press story line, calling the coverage of him “disgusting” and “incredibly dishonest.” The same day, he claimed Barack Obama and Mrs. Clinton were the “founder” and “co-founder” of Islamic State. By Friday he was insisting that his remarks were “sarcastic.” (They were not.) A week that was supposed to be devoted to economics turned into a disaster.

This week has so far proceeded along the same lines. Mr. Trump started Monday with a teleprompter speech on Islamic terrorism that generated good coverage. By Tuesday he had dropped terrorism and changed the subject. Hillary Clinton, he told a Wisconsin rally, “is against the police, believe me.” But voters are not in a believing mood. They want proof.

Instead of unsettling sound bites, Mr. Trump should offer a sustained attack on the policies and failings of Mrs. Clinton—backed with evidence. He should explain how he will put the country on the right track. Even if he does everything right from here on, given his terrible mistakes so far, he may well lose in November. But if he doesn’t change tactics now, he is likely to be wiped out.

The new Team Trump should decide what message it wants Americans to hear each day. Then it must craft language and events to present that message, and convince the candidate to stick to it. The focus ought to be on the 20% of voters who are undecided or have moved reluctantly toward Mrs. Clinton, not the nearly 40% already committed to Mr. Trump.

He should also stop punching back at everyone who strikes at him. Mr. Trump’s opponents know that they can get him off balance by needling him on inconsequential items. He might try to prove them wrong occasionally. For example, 70 prominent Republicans sent an Aug. 12 letter to the party’s chairman, Reince Priebus, urging the GOP to stop funding Donald Trump’s campaign and focus on saving its House and Senate majorities. Rather than ignoring or playing down the letter, Mr. Trump grabbed headlines by telling Fox News that if the party cut off funding, he would follow suit: “All I have to do is stop funding the Republican Party.”

Did those comments help move a single swing voter into his corner? Convince anyone that Mr. Trump was on their side? No. And he’s not funding the GOP anyway.

The main problem with the Trump campaign has been Mr. Trump. He is an unguided missile, prone to veer of course and hit friendly forces. If his newly installed team was recruited to “Let Trump Be Trump” because they believe his attacks and populism have been too muted, then an epic loss could be the result.


Article Link To The Wall Street Journal:

Noonan: A Dramatic Lesson About Political Actors

The Danish series ‘Borgen’ speaks to the growing detachment between leaders and the led.


By Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
August 19, 2016

Let’s look at last week’s theme—the growing detachment between Western leaders and the led—in a different way. I have spent much of my downtime the past year watching and re-watching the three seasons of the Danish drama “Borgen.” It is the fictional story of the surprise election and government of the first woman elected prime minister of Denmark, and it is one of the greatest portrayals of modern politics and government I have ever seen. As drama it is riveting and full of unexpected turns, also somewhat haunting and discomfiting, which I’ll get to in a moment. But I couldn’t get over how wonderful it was—how universal in terms of politics, and of the moment (it premiered on Danish TV in 2010 and ran through 2013), and how it anticipated political events in the West (including the election of an actual female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, in 2011). Also how beautiful it is—elegantly shot, acted, written. It had a cult following in Denmark and the U.K., and ought to here.

Borgen is the popular name of Copenhagen’s Christiansborg Palace, which houses the Parliament and prime minister’s office. The new prime minister is Birgitte Nyborg, played by the luminous Sidse Babett Knudsen. Her character is beautifully created—young, kindly, smart, attractive, determined, warm. Also a tough little broad who understands the tough ways of the world. Her politics are left-liberal; she butts heads with the hard left, the hard-hard left, moderate liberals and a small right-wing populist party.

The living gargoyles that populate her world are people you would recognize if you watch too much American cable news. She deals with ideologues, hacks, ambitious allies. There is her tormented spin doctor—Danish politics is on some level so innocent they consider that an honorable profession and don’t even bother with the title of press secretary. The journalists around her treat politics as a commodity. They are curt, vulgar, hungry, sometimes but not always redeemed by idealism and the people’s right to know.

Almost all the characters are on the left, the only question being what kind of leftist you are. Those who seem centrist are really just bored with politics. There are two conservatives, a malevolent newspaper editor, who torments figures of the left for the enjoyment of the right, and the populist party’s head, who is old and homely, wears the wrong clothes, and accepts being sneered at as the price he pays for where he stands.

He is occasionally given his due. In a live television debate Birgitte eloquently advances her government’s plan to take in more refugees from the Mideast, which she paints as a grand gesture in line with Denmark’s long moral tradition. He wins the moment arguing for prudence, at the end quoting feelingly from an old Danish poem. In a way he is one of the moral characters, if always an object of fun. Eventually he is overthrown by a sexy rising rightist, a dim little mover who knows the old man isn’t attractive or compelling enough to win the future.

Two plotlines capture something about the show and its larger reality.

Early in office Birgitte, head of a tenuous coalition government, chooses to back a major new feminist initiative. Her government will push a bill demanding quotas on corporate boards—half those chosen now must be women. It had been a campaign promise. Also she thinks it fair—there hasn’t been an increase in female business executives in 10 years.

Denmark’s biggest industrialist asks for a meeting. He opposes state intervention in this area, he tells the prime minister. He is not hostile to women’s rights but needs the freedom to do what is best for his company. If she doesn’t pull the bill, he will move his company and its 10,000 jobs out of the country. With the courteous imperiousness only a 70-year-old major CEO could pull off, he gives her 48 hours to decide.

She leaves, rattled. A media conglomerate that turns out to be owned by the CEO quickly begins smearing one of her ministers.

She studies up. The CEO begins meetings at headquarters with a song about Denmark. He plays cards with the royal family. He is a philanthropist. He’s been knighted.

She realizes she can use his patriotism against him.

When they meet he asks for her answers. No, she says, she’ll go forward. All right, he says, my company will leave.

“But you won’t,” she says. You’ll stay because you are not going to spend the end of your career negotiating your departure from the country you love. You will stay and we will make you modern. You’ll end a hero.

Their eyes lock in silence. It is true—he’ll never leave.

What do I get? he asks. Her government’s environmental taxes are hurting his company. Perhaps they can be delayed two years?

She smiles, nods. They shake hands.

As he walks away, her face is convulsed by a tic. You see what the high-stakes bluff cost her. You feel sympathy. It is a very great drama that leaves you moved by and rooting for the person whose stand you disagree with.

The second revealing plotline:

The previous government had taken steps to privatize health care. Birgitte is opposed to private health insurance—it would make Denmark the mess America is. Her health-care bill, in her words, “declares war on private health insurance.” The rich shouldn’t be allowed to buy their way out of the public system; it needs to be strengthened. It’s unjust that private hospitals get the best doctors.

Then her teenage daughter has a nervous breakdown. Birgitte is informed public psychiatric hospitals have a 50-week wait. She sends her daughter to a private hospital with the best doctors. She is accused of hypocrisy; a public uproar ensues. Throughout this drama she never once doubts her policy—the one she herself is buying her way out of. She knows what’s good for the people and she knows what’s good for her family, and when they’re not the same she does not question her assumptions but only barrels on.

This great drama shows all that. Which is why there’s something haunting in it, and discomfiting. You get a strong sense of why things don’t work.

“Borgen” captures this: History is human. Political leaders are driven by personal imperatives every bit as much as—often more than—public ones.

It demonstrates, knowingly or not, that to be of the left in the Western political context is to operate in a broad, deep, richly populated liberal-world that rarely if ever is pierced by contrary thought. They are in a bubble they can’t see, even as they accuse others of living in bubbles. Birgitte sees herself as practical and pragmatic, and she is—within a broader context of absolute and unquestioned ideology.

It reminded me that as a general rule political parties and political actors do not change their minds based on evidence or argument. They have to be beaten. Only then can they rationalize change to themselves and their colleagues: “We keep losing!” Defeat is the only condition in which they can see the need for change. They have to be concussed into it.


Article Link To The Wall Street Journal:

Krauthammer: Russia Rises

Under President Obama, a passive U.S. foreign policy has allowed belligerent rivals to gather strength.


By Charles Krauthammer 
The National Review
August 19, 2016

This week Russian bombers flew out of Iranian air bases to attack rebel positions in Syria. The State Department pretended not to be surprised. It should be. It should be alarmed. Iran’s intensely nationalistic revolutionary regime had never permitted foreign forces to operate from its soil. Until now.

The reordering of the Middle East is proceeding apace. Where for 40 years the U.S.–Egypt alliance anchored the region, a Russia–Iran condominium is now dictating events. That’s what you get after eight years of U.S. retrenchment and withdrawal. That’s what results from the nuclear deal with Iran, the evacuation of Iraq, and utter U.S. immobility on Syria. Consider:

Iran

The nuclear deal was supposed to begin a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran. Instead, it has solidified a strategic-military alliance between Moscow and Tehran. With the lifting of sanctions and the normalizing of Iran’s international relations, Russia rushed in with major deals, including the shipment of S-300 ground-to-air missiles. Russian use of Iranian bases now marks a new level of cooperation and joint power projection.

Iraq

These bombing runs cross Iraqi airspace. Before President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq, that could not have happened. The resulting vacuum has not only created a corridor for Russian bombing, it has gradually allowed a hard-won post-Saddam Iraq to slip into Iran’s orbit. According to a Baghdad-based U.S. military spokesman, there are 100,000 Shiite militia fighters operating inside Iraq, 80 percent of them Iranian-backed.

Syria

When Russia dramatically intervened last year, establishing air bases and launching a savage bombing campaign, Obama did nothing. Indeed, he smugly predicted that Vladimir Putin had entered a quagmire. Some quagmire. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not only saved. It encircled Aleppo and has seized the upper hand in the civil war. Meanwhile, our hapless secretary of state is running around trying to sue for peace, offering to share intelligence and legitimize Russian intervention if only Putin will promise to conquer gently.

Consider what Putin has achieved. Dealt a very weak hand — a rump Russian state, shorn of empire and saddled with a backward economy and a rusting military — he has restored Russia to great-power status. Reduced to irrelevance in the 1990s, it is now a force to be reckoned with.

In Europe, Putin has unilaterally redrawn the map. His annexation of Crimea will not be reversed. The Europeans are eager to throw off the few sanctions they grudgingly imposed on Russia. And the rape of eastern Ukraine continues.

Ten thousand have already died and now Putin is threatening even more open warfare. Under the absurd pretext of Ukrainian terrorism in Crimea, Putin has threatened retaliation, massed troops in eight locations on the Ukrainian border, ordered Black Sea naval exercises, and moved advanced anti-aircraft batteries into Crimea, giving Moscow control over much of Ukrainian airspace.

And why shouldn’t he? He’s pushing on an open door. Obama still refuses to send Ukraine even defensive weapons. The administration’s response to these provocations? Urging “both sides” to exercise restraint. Both sides, mind you.

And in a gratuitous flaunting of its newly expanded reach, Russia will be conducting joint naval exercises with China in the South China Sea, in obvious support of Beijing’s territorial claims and illegal military bases.

Yet the president shows little concern. He is too smart not to understand geopolitics; he simply doesn’t care. In part because his priorities are domestic. In part because he thinks we lack clean hands and thus the moral standing to continue to play international arbiter.

And in part because he’s convinced that in the long run it doesn’t matter. Fluctuations in great-power relations are inherently ephemeral. For a man who sees a moral arc in the universe bending inexorably toward justice, calculations of raw realpolitik are 20th-century thinking — primitive, obsolete, the obsession of small minds.

Obama made all this perfectly clear in speeches at the U.N., in Cairo, and here at home in his very first year in office. Two terms later, we see the result. Ukraine dismembered. Eastern Europe on edge. Syria a charnel house. Iran subsuming Iraq. Russia and Iran on the march across the entire northern Middle East.

At the heart of this disorder is a simple asymmetry. It is in worldview. The major revisionist powers — China, Russia, and Iran — know what they want: power, territory, tribute. And they’re going after it. Barack Obama takes Ecclesiastes’ view that these are vanities, nothing but vanities.

In the kingdom of heaven, no doubt. Here on earth, however — Aleppo to Donetsk, Estonia to the Spratly Islands — it matters greatly.


Article Link To The National Review: