Gideon Rose discusses the September/October 2017 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine with contributors Takako Hikotani, Jon D. Michaels, and Shannon K. O’Neil. The latest issue reports on how countries traditionally allied with the United States are grappling with the challenges of the Trump era.
ROSE: So welcome, everybody, to our Council on Foreign Relations meeting launching the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs.
Jon, good to see you, virtually at least. Oh, there you are. You’re down there. OK, well you’re there. (Laughter.)
So we have a great panel today. The lead—the lead package in the September/October issue is about that bereft community of refugees searching for a place in the new world, unable to figure out what happened to their former patron. (Laughter.) It’s basically called “Trump and the Allies,” and we have a couple of the authors from that package here. We also have an author from another article in the issue who are sort of the people who are in internal exile, you might say. So we have the outside people in exile and you have the internal exiles, the Deep State, which we’ll talk about as well.
But let’s get right to it. We have a wonderful panel. All the details of our wonderful speakers are in your packets, but let me just say a little bit about them.
So Takako Hikotani is the Gerald L. Curtis associate professor of modern Japanese politics and foreign policy at Columbia. She is a wonderful expert on Japan and U.S.-Japanese relations, and we’re delighted to actually have her in our pages for the first time in this issue.
HIKOTANI: Thank you.
ROSE: Shannon O’Neil is, of course, familiar to all of us here as the Nelson and David Rockefeller senior fellow for Latin America Studies and director of the endlessly long name title program at the Council—(laughter)—and a frequent appearer in Foreign Affairs pages. And we are delighted to have her here as well.
And Jon Michaels is a professor of law at UCLA, making his first appearance in the magazine with a wonderful piece that is a particularly fun one that I enjoyed working on about Trump and the administrative state.
So, with that, let’s just start. Shannon, let’s start with you. Perhaps the most neuralgic of all the allied relationships is the U.S.-Mexico one, and yet it’s like one of those Greco-Roman wrestling matches where you’re tied together so you can’t—you can’t—(laughter)—you can’t leave even if you wanted to. Talk to us about the myriad complexities of the Mexico-U.S. relationship in the Trump era. And particularly, how is Mexico dealing with this kind of stuff? In other words, the basic theme of this meeting is enough about us; what do you think of us? (Laughter.)
O’NEIL: Well, thank you, Gideon. And thank you all for coming today.
And as you say, right, these are two nations that—not to steal a title from my old book, but two nations that are indivisible, right? We’re tied together through our economies. We’re tied together through our border. We’re tied together through our security. We’re tied together through our environment, through waterways, through people, through the immigration between the two countries. And so you come—you get a Trump administration who comes in, and all of a sudden, while these realities are still there between the people, and the trade, and the security, and then all the environmental and all the other sides of things, the interchanges between the governments are really in peril.
And not that we need a recap of the campaign, but I would say Mexico was thrown under the bus more than any other country, right? If you look at the big themes that were out there, one of the big ones was build a wall, and that had all to do with Mexico. That was going to be the policy towards security, was just to build a wall—also towards immigration, in many ways. The other was, you know, get rid of NAFTA, right? It was the worst free-trade agreement. There’s others now that also fill that bill, but it was the worst one out there.
And so we have seen, as Trump came in, one of the first things he did in the first week or so was cancel a meeting with the Mexican president who was on his way, basically, to Washington to meet with him. And he canceled that meeting because he refused to pay for the wall. And then he has pushed forward many of these pretty hostile, I would say, towards Mexico, towards one of our most natural and pretty strong allies, many of these policies. So whether it’s the wall, whether it’s renegotiating NAFTA, whether it’s DACA—which, you know, a good majority of those students, the DREAMers, are from Mexico originally—
ROSE: What percent?
O’NEIL: About—well, it’s probably about two-thirds to almost 75 percent.
ROSE: Two-thirds of the DREAMers are Mexican?
O’NEIL: Yeah, they think so. Yeah, yeah. Of origin, Mexican of origin, yes.
So we’ve seen this sort of move forward. And the Mexicans, I have to say, have been struggling to react. They were caught a little bit flat-footed at the beginning. They were trying to figure out how to deal with the Trump victory. And they began really focused on a personal relationship that had developed between the foreign minister—who is really the consigliere of the president, really the person closest to him, President Peña of Mexico—and Jared Kushner, right, so Trump’s senior advisor. And I do think the Mexicans at the start thought we will just focus on Jared, he will guide us through this process, and we’ll be fine.
Then they found out that wasn’t true. Their visit got canceled. They got, you know, mud on their face. Some other, you know, words came out and other sort of hostile rhetoric. And they’ve begun to diversify their strategy.
And so they have begun to think more broadly. They have brought many of their—Mexico, one thing—Mexico has many advantages, but one of those advantages, they have a really strong bureaucracy in terms of just technocrats and other people. So they have brought out many of these people. They’ve put a good number on the NAFTA renegotiation, so they’re bringing their A team to that process to try to find some sort of solution that would be amenable to the United States, but that also protects the benefits of NAFTA, and actually modernizes it and makes it better for all the countries involved.
But they have started—I would say not to the extent Canada has, but they have started to go out and look for Mexico supporters beyond the Oval Office. So they have gone to Congress. They have gone to governors. They have gone to mayors. They have gone to companies. And they’ve gone to this whole host of people. And while I do think they need to do more I think this is the strategy that will help them through the next whatever number of years that we have a Trump administration.
And what they can do with this strategy is, one, revive or make people aware of their dependence on Mexico, of the $18 billion of agricultural goods—of pork and soy and corn—that goes south and are bought by Mexicans; by the companies that sell to Mexico. Mexico is the best customer for U.S. companies, for the things that they make here. Mexicans like our products more than any other nation, in the United States, on a per capita basis. And so they’re starting to kind of bring together this coalition that can either convince Trump, or perhaps if they can’t convince him box him in within the Congress.
So that is the strategy. But’ it’s not—you know, it’s sort of the second-best goal for Mexico to try to make sure that when we get to the end of this administration, whenever that is, that these interests and this partnership that has developed over the last three decades remains intact.
ROSE: So a two-finger on that, follow up. The Mexicans have been able—or the Trump administration has not been able to do the major policy shifts that it sought—the wall, NAFTA, and so forth. So what actual—I mean, is the Mexican—is the U.S.-Mexican relationship a little bit like Obamacare, where the effort to repeal it fell through but it’s sort of being strangled gradually on the vine sort of in a day-to-day basis?
O’NEIL: I think that’s in part. Any of the positive momentum forward and the trust that’s necessary for day-to-day security cooperation or commerce or customs or all these things, some of that is falling apart. And I actually think the biggest threat to U.S.-Mexico relations is the way U.S. rhetoric and behavior is reverberating into their domestic politics and may affect their 2018 presidential elections. And so you are seeing the current frontrunner in that election—though he’s the only one who has announced his candidacy, so he’s the frontrunner—he is taking a very hard, strong stance against the United States, against—or asserting sovereignty of Mexico and this view. And I think the other candidates, once they announce, they too will need to present themselves, given Mexican public opinion, as someone who can stand up tough to any aggression that comes from the north.
So I think you’re seeing a switch in Mexico that could be in the long term, right? You could see a switch in public opinion. Mexicans, for many years—for the last couple of decades—have been of the populations most amenable and friendly to the United States. They liked us more than most other nations. But now that is no longer the case. And the question is, is that a short-term characteristic of a spat that’s been happening over the last year, or is that something that’s going to last for a generation or more?
ROSE: That’s a really charming way to begin. Thank you very much, Shannon. (Laughter.) Worse than, let’s say, a decade ago, during the post-Iraq stuff? You know, is the—is the anti-U.S. feeling more now than it was in the early 2000s?
O’NEIL: In Mexico, yes.
ROSE: In Mexico, yes.
O’NEIL: Because this is very—this is very personal.
ROSE: So this is the nadir in modern U.S.-Mexican relations.
O’NEIL: Yes, in the last 50 years. They like us less than any other time in the last 50 years.
ROSE: Got it.
Takako, if there were a country that I would give a prize to in the allied community for best handling of the Trump era, I would give it to Japan. I think they’ve played this masterfully. But, first of all, that’s my opinion; I’m curious if it’s yours. And, second of all, can you describe a little bit how Japan, which was if not as big a target as Mexico, then, probably with China, was in the second tier of targets, and yet has managed to seemingly escape a whole lot of damage, well, from our perspective.
HIKOTANI: OK. Thank you. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
I remember back in November, when we were at a panel elsewhere in New York—
ROSE: Just after the election.
HIKOTANI: Just after the election. It was the day that Prime Minister Abe was visiting President Trump at Trump Tower. And I remember I talked about how I was uncomfortable with the sight—(laughs)—because I was still trying to recover from what just happened a couple of days ago. I started teaching at Columbia in September. It was something that I didn’t think would happen while I was here.
But I guess this article—and also, I taught a class on U.S. policy towards East Asia starting from January, which was also difficult because it was not what I expected. When I prepared the syllabus in October, I did not see that coming. So I have two wonderful students from that class today, but we kind of tried to muddle through about figuring out what was going on. And I guess I do agree with you that I think Japan has handled the situation quite well.
What I say in the article is that Japan has succeeded so far in Trump management, sort of overcoming the uncertainties of the Trump administration. But maybe Japan has to think about how it should step up—not just to maintain the bilateral relationship, but do what it can to sustain what the U.S. has done in the world, both globally and regionally, for Japan.
So if I were to recap what I said, the two successes were—two components of Trump management was to disarm and disengage. Disarm is basically saying that the Trump meeting, precisely what we were meeting the same day, is that to make sure that Mr. Trump does not follow up on the election campaign promises. A lot of which what he said towards Japan was sort of from the ’80s and sort of not realistic, but potentially harmful—
ROSE: So “disarm” is suck up?
HIKOTANI: Suck up, or to make sure he doesn’t repeat what he said, or his campaign rhetoric does not translate into—
ROSE: But how were they trying to get him to stop doing that?
HIKOTANI: Right, to make sure that, not in a direct you are completely wrong or you’re still stuck in the ’80s type of way, but to make sure that he feels comfortable dealing with Prime Minister Abe. And I guess they were sort of lucky that no other countries were as friendly initially, so he was able to establish himself as the friend that he can talk to. I do hear that since then the communication between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe has been good, possibly because of the first initial part when President Trump was probably feeling—not feeling much love from other countries. Shinzo Abe was there to step in.
ROSE: Was the gold golf club—at the time, I think those kind of gimmicks are usually cheesy, whether it’s the button for the reset or the cake for Iran. But this one seems to have been genius because they were playing somebody who likes the kowtow.
HIKOTANI: Right. But apparently, from what I read from newspaper reports about the Mar-a-Lago meeting, in fact, President Trump did not use the golf club. I don’t know why. So maybe if that was the goal, maybe it didn’t really help his golf, but at least it made him feel much better—
ROSE: Exactly, right.
HIKOTANI: —because they knew what he liked. And it was gold, and I guess that mattered too. (Laughter.)
And so the second strategy was disengagement, which as of when I wrote the article, it seemed to be more of disengage in terms of making sure that the policies that are important for Japan are in the right hands; meaning the defense—the Department of Defense is actually very much following the previous administration’s policies towards East Asia in terms of U.S. security policy, and that in terms of economic policy not to have President Trump directly deal with economic policy, but to have the vice minister level and the finance minister of Japan, who happens to be the former prime minister, to play a role so that it’s in good hands.
But I do think that things have evolved since then. So it’s not just disengaging Trump, but reengaging the U.S. government and looking for a partner to work with when, in fact, the U.S. government does look still kind of empty. They still have to find people to work with, and they’re trying to maintain the bilateral relationship going even with the lack of a current partner in some cases in both—especially in the Department of State.
ROSE: Give us a little update on Korea, because Japan’s—we don’t usually hear—OK, we know all about the Korean crisis. We watch our president, we know the Korean angle, and we hear a lot about the Chinese angle. We don’t tend to hear that much here about the Japanese angle, which is actually playing an interesting role.
HIKOTANI: Right. I guess it’s—in a way we don’t hear about it because there isn’t something that Japan can do very independently. And I think compared to the time I wrote the article back in May/June, what the Japanese government has since—been doing since—you know, in August and September there were two missile that flew across Japan, and also there was a nuclear testing on September 6th, I guess, and so things have become a little bit more serious since then. And I think what we’ve seen in terms of development is to make sure that we are on the same page as the U.S. government in terms of its policy towards North Korea, and that when there is some kind of policy, especially you can see in the case of the U.N. General Assembly speech by Prime Minister Abe to emphasize that North Korea is very much on Japan’s mind, and it is forefront, and we want to make sure that other countries are onboard when it comes to sanctions, because I think that’s what they have—they believe is the best bet about in terms of multilateral.
And at bilateral level, they want to make sure that the U.S. does extend its extended deterrence and does not hurriedly go into some kind of a(n) agreement which may not be in the interest of Japan, because what exactly is the tolerable status quo for Japan and for the U.S. might be quite different. And there’s fears that the calculation might have changed a little bit in the United States because of the fact that some of the tests were very successful, and there’s fears that maybe U.S. would not trade San Francisco for Tokyo, for instance.
So that’s, I think, where we are right now. And so I think the policy is to make sure that we’re on the same page, and to make sure or try to have South Korea to be on the same page vis-à-vis North Korea. I think that’s what we see right now.
ROSE: Thank you, Takako.
Jon, the denizens of the administrative state have been probably going through the same, you know, Kübler-Ross stages of grief as the allies over the last nine months. How far have they progressed?
MICHAELS: So it’s a really difficult time to be a federal bureaucrat. It’s perhaps the hardest time in this—the 50 years that was alluded to in terms of the relationship between Mexico and the United States. My guess is the same story would be true if you polled federal civil servants.
The story is—it’s a—it’s a troubling one. And so leaving aside the heightened rhetoric, the kind of—the virulent rhetoric, I would even say, about conjuring up images of a Deep State that have all these transnational associations with places like Turkey and Pakistan and Egypt, where kind of elites in ministries will crack down on, say, good governance reforms, there’s been a larger push to delegitimize and essentially marginalize as much as possible the federal bureaucracy as an obstacle in the way of, in this particular administration, also a deregulatory agenda.
So let me back up and explain what I think is going on. So invariably, especially early in the spring and in the summer, we heard a lot of talk about the Deep State, about draining the swamp, deconstructing the administrative state. And part of that is about a deregulatory agenda, which we see play out, splashed on the news pages every day that there’s not—that’s not being—the pages aren’t being swollen by scandals; it’s a deregulatory—an abrupt deregulatory move.
So we see resistance there. We see federal bureaucrats trying to do what they can do to limit these in large—in large respects unprecedented efforts to scale back. At the same time, we see other elements of the federal bureaucracy resisting the issues—the instances of corruption, of mismanagement, of hyper-partisanship. That’s the—that’s the kind of more political opposition that we’re seeing. And the convergence of those two camps have really kind of gotten on the nerves of this administration, and they’ve been lashing out, and lashing out with some regularity.
It is—one of the opportunities that I thought presented itself by writing this essay was to talk about—not just to distinguish the American Deep State—if we even want to call it a Deep State—from places like Turkey and Pakistan, which I think is relatively easily done. But also to say this is an opportunity for us to reclaim American bureaucracy as not a pejorative concept, and kind of recognize its role and its—its important role in modern America.
ROSE: So, Jon, let me press you on something. I’ll talk to whichever the Jons. We’re actually going to have—trying to get a piece on this, a full piece, for a future issue. But one of the ways that the Deep State or one of the ways that members of the state—the bureaucracy, the officialdom, whatever, permanent government—have responded has been to leak various kinds of information, to disclose unauthorized but accurate information from the inner workings of, you know, the government. What is the difference, if any, or the line between leaking at whistleblowing?
MICHAELS: Yeah, that’s a great question. So one of the—in my academic writing, I call the bureaucracy phototropic, because they thrive on sunlight. They thrive on transparency in a way that’s not true in the more—you know, the cabals, to the extent there are cabals, overseas that are—that are kind of puppeteers pulling the strings. What we see in terms of resistance is we see a number of practices, almost all transparent. We see rogue tweeting, we see whistleblowing, and we see leaking.
Usually where you see a difference between leaking and whistleblowing, to circle back to your question, is that whistleblowing is usually to sound out or to sound an alarm for some kind of breach of duty, some kind of irregularity or illegality. You see leaking in a more informal context, when things are going in the wrong direction but not necessarily rising to the level of, let’s say, criminal or civil infractions. So they’re—in some—they’re complementary tools, is the way I see them, and leaks are in some ways a more gentle way of confronting a problem insofar as it doesn’t necessarily trigger the type of investigatory responses that we would expect from whistleblowing—where whistleblowing would be the last resort, where you would have—at least for some members of the federal bureaucracy, you would have legal protections from being disciplined for whistleblowing. And that’s not necessarily true with leaking, so there is a greater—there is at times greater risk with leaking.
ROSE: Got it. Let me just actually make a point about the Deep State question, because this discussion really has been so idiotic and been deeply polluted. So there’s a wonderful little line in Jon’s piece, or a couple of lines, where he says just like Trump’s problem with the media is not fake news but news, so his problem with the Deep State is not a problem with the Deep State but a problem with the state. (Laughter.) And, you know, when they talk about the Deep State, in America we just have to call that the state. The Deep State is a real concept that scholars like these knows and understand in developing countries that are under-institutionalized. What a—like Turkey or Pakistan or Egypt. You want to know what a Deep State looks like? You’re the Deep State. In other countries with Deep States, a collection of private, rich, influential, connected machers meeting in secret behind the scenes from different organizations would be members of a cohesive elite class that would basically be running the country for their own interests and privileges, no matter what the formal administrative structure was. Shannon, is that not a fair sort of general—
O’NEIL: It’s fair.
ROSE: Right, OK. We don’t have that. It would be great if we lived in a world in which the Council on Foreign Relations actually had that power. (Laughter.) George Kennan’s wet dream was to create a council of which the Council on Foreign Relations would run things, just like the Federal Reserve runs monetary policy. We don’t have that here. In fact, the only—to the extent we actually have a Deep State, it would be the Fed that would be pretty—but it’s pretty much out there. So that’s why we did this, because it was so annoying, because this is what a Deep State looks like but we’re a disempowered Deep State in this meeting right now. (Laughter.)
So let me put it to all of you—(inaudible). I said to somebody the other day that the Trump administration reminded me a little bit of Hurricane Irma, almost, because after like some of the early predictions—oh my goodness, it’s going to go after Miami! Oh!—well, it didn’t quite go—oh, it’s going to go after Tampa! OK, well, so now it’s like going up the middle of the spine. It’s causing a lot of problems, but it hasn’t caused the levees flooding, it hasn’t caused the, you know, mass casualties or anything. But you know what, where the hurricane goes next and, you know—Shannon, like, you were almost saying that the Mexicans are like, OK, when this finally peters out in North Carolina and whatever, you know, then we’ll try and pick up the pieces then and figure out what happens next, and that’s how they’re looking at it. Presumably, the Japanese are doing something similar. And presuming some of the people in your article, Jon, are doing something similar.
But it’s weird because six months ago people were panicking. Now everybody’s snarky and outraged and appalled, but they’re not panicking as much because things seem to have stalled. And so my question to you guy is: Are we at a stable equilibrium of stasis and stagnancy? Or is this whole story going to go someplace new, lurching forward, next?
O’NEIL: Well, I think I’d pick up on the last comment I made. And I think there are sort of ramifications of this, even if it stalls out, right, and we don’t end NAFTA, and we don’t build a wall, and maybe we even allow the DREAMers to stay under some sort of element. We’ve already, or the rhetoric has already triggered a reaction in Mexico, and I don’t know where that reaction is going to go. But you could imagine—look, I think Mexico’s elections next year, the presidential elections, will really be decided on domestic issues there. They’ll be decided on the economy. It’ll be decided on security. It’ll be decided on corruption, and which candidate can take the anticorruption mantle most for his or her own.
But U.S. rhetoric will matter. And in the—in the end, Mexico elections, particularly the way their electoral structure works, the next candidate could win with somewhere between 25, 30 percent of the vote. And if this moves a couple percentages of the voters, you could have a candidate who comes in who’s very anti-American. And then, even if—even if the Trump hurricane has stalled out, you’ve created another one down there that could have ramifications that we don’t know yet. So I think there are problems here that are knock-on effects that you can’t stop.
ROSE: So our populism could drive their populism again?
O’NEIL: Exactly, yeah.
ROSE: Shit. (Laughter.)
HIKOTANI: I guess that’s slightly different in the case of Japan. It’s really hard to say that things are stable just because of North Korea and Trump. It doesn’t really seem like a stable combination, so to speak. But I think we’ve learned to kind of figure out the deeds than the words or the Twitters and go from there.
And just in contrast with Mexico, we do have an election coming up, but I don’t think Trump is on the agenda. The opposition is not taking anti-Trump stance, so that’s not going to really cause the changes in domestic policy as much as maybe in other countries might be. So in that sense, it might be a (status ?) than otherwise.
ROSE: Do the Japanese—does the Japanese political class and public agree with us that Abe’s handled this pretty well, and that’s why—
HIKOTANI: I think opinion polls show that, like, after the Mar-a-Lago meeting or so far, there isn’t like a negative impression of how Prime Minister Abe has handled Trump. He has his own problems as leading to some discontent with Prime Minister Abe, but it’s not really related to President Trump.
ROSE: Got it. Jon?
MICHAELS: So I don’t think we’re at a stable point. I think we’re at—to the extent it’s not, we don’t see moments of crisis. We see a slow and dangerous trickle downward. There is great demoralization. There’s great delegitimization. And this really does track the kind of political divisions that we see playing out on the, you know, nightly—you know, the partisan newscasts, to the extent they’re partisan.
There is a significant segment of the population that completely distrusts government—not just distrusts the media, but distrusts government. It makes it a really hard place for federal civil servants to work, and it’s leading to brain drain. It’s leading to demoralization. People don’t want to necessarily stick their necks out. My students are having serious qualms about joining the federal government, working for the Justice Department, working for the SEC.
This is going to be—this could have kind of generational ramifications if it takes us that long to rebuild a solid administrative infrastructure and kind of recapture the faith of the public, because it’s not as if Democratic administrations in the 21st century or the kind of post-Reagan era were particularly solicitous and supportive of bureaucracy. It’s been pretty much a pejorative concept since the rise of what, you know, for lack of a better term we would call the kind of neoliberal movement that we were kind of lurching in the direction of before the Trump displacement, to the extent it is a displacement.
ROSE: You guys get the prize for the most depressing FA meeting. (Laughter.) And, you know, given the subjects we cover, the fact that this is the most depressing meeting we’ve had in ages, I hold you all to blame. (Laughter.)
OK. At this time I would like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions. A reminder: the meeting is on the record. Please wait for the microphone, speak directly into it, stand, state your name and affiliation, and ask a concise question to allow as many people to speak as possible.
Yes, right here.
Q: Thank you. Steven Blank.
Trump may not be unique. In many ways, in a couple years from now, we could see a slightly older Gideon Rose with young people around him asking questions like this. After 70 good years in which the United States reversed its traditional positions on its role in the world, it changed, and reverted and tried to revert to the traditional role of independence, “America first,” and so on. Is that—are we likely to see, at all, deep structural changes in America’s role in the world—not Trumpist, but a reversion to earlier—to an earlier, more traditional role of our country?
ROSE: So this is, of course, the $64,000 question. I personally think the answer is simple: no. But then we have real experts here who are going to explain why that may—they’re more worried about it than I am. But, Shannon and Takako and Jon, what do you think?
O’NEIL: Well, I think we can revert to a more traditional role, but some things will have moved ahead without us, right? And I think the classic example—which may or may not move ahead, we’ll see—is the TPP, right? What’s left of the TPP? Do those countries that are there, those 11 countries, go ahead? Do they go ahead and form something? Do they then make alliances with other trade agreements, or with China or others, that then the United States has to join as-is, which will be harder to do than the first time around when we got to really negotiate things to our benefit? And things that we negotiated—some of the things that were very important to the United States—may be ejected from a TPP that only involves the other countries.
So, yes, I think we can return. But it’s not as if the world is going to wait the four years or eight years for the next administration to come and say, OK, now you’re back, and let’s go back to where we were.
ROSE: Takako, how much is the situation in East Asia changing?
HIKOTANI: Right. I think there is a realization that this might not just be about Trump, that this might be some of a sign of a long-term trend about maybe the U.S. disengaging from East Asia than it once did. And so—but it just kind of came in accelerated pace, not just in terms of President Trump, but also in terms of North Korea. So it’s like—and also China, more rapidly than people expected.
But I think, in terms of policy going forward, for Japan at least they would prefer that the U.S. will remain engaged. So hopefully after, like—I don’t know when the after is, whether it’s three years or eight years, that things will be a case in which there is some of a return, or somewhat of a status quo than otherwise. Or at least that seems to be what the Japanese government or Japan—Japanese people, as well—would like to see. But we don’t know, and it’s true that some of it is not just—a more structural nature and not just President Trump.
Yes, in the back there.
Q: Thank you. I’m Donald Shriver of Union Theological Seminary.
I have never thought that to be the CEO of a major corporation is necessarily good preparation for being president. This particular president is a strange combination of a lot of things. One of them is his lack of a sense of humor. I haven’t been able to figure out whether the dismissal of 700 of our State Department and other employees in the U.S. embassy in Moscow was greeted mostly as something funny by him, or something that he didn’t know how to reply to in terms of any anger at anybody in Russia. What I wanted to know is, is this dismissal by Russia of those 700 people—sending them back to the United States—has this affecting the moral of employees of the federal government in Washington.
ROSE: Jon, do you want to take that?
MICHAELS: Yeah. The short answer is yes, absolutely it has affected the moral. It is—you know, people—it’s people’s kind of last service to be doing State Department work, Department of Interior work, Department of Health and Human Service work. There are true believers who have committed themselves to government service, often at great, you know, personal financial, you know, cost, because they are highly marketable individuals. And to see their work, particularly in foreign policy, which is at least in the past 70 years has enjoyed some insulation from the kind of partisan politics of the day—to see their work kind of dismissed or undermined, to see Rex Tillerson kind of close up his doors and seemingly his ears to a lot of the career personnel and kind of rely on consultants and whatnot, I think this is a big, big problem.
And just to circle back, if I may, to your point about preparation for being a president or a governor in terms of your job as a CEO, I’ve actually—my book which comes out this month is actually all about running government like a business and the kind of incompatibilities and inconsistencies there. One thing I would say is that a lot of times when we think about that model we think of someone more like Rex Tillerson or more like a—someone who has run a major, publicly traded corporation. So, you know, in previous generations it’s been someone like Bob McNamara. Donald Trump doesn’t even have the accountability metrics that we would see as front and center in a—in a publicly traded corporation, where there’s constant surveillance and checks and accountability metrics with the government, with shareholders, with bankers. Running a private, closely held, and relatively shadowy company makes him even less disposed to understand the kind of—that he has to work carefully and closely and collaboratively with a whole bunch of stakeholders that he’s really never had to encounter in his life.
ROSE: John, I think that’s absolutely true. And let me also just add one little tidbit to that, as a sort of personal breaking of the fourth wall. Sometimes it’s heard that Trump is not just a businessman, a CEO, but sometimes he’s described as a representative of, let’s say, the New York real estate industry, as if the characteristics of Donald Trump are the characteristics of the New York real estate industry. As somebody who knows a lot of people in the New York real estate industry pretty well, they are not all like Donald Trump. (Laughter.) The Donald Trump business practices are not, in fact, the norm of the U.S.—of the New York real estate industry, which is why he ended up going off and doing a lot of other things elsewhere than that. So he’s not necessarily representative of anything other than Donald Trump.
Next question. Raghida Dergham over here.
Q: Thank you. Raghida Dergham, Beirut Institute and Al-Hayat.
I know that it’s not in your issue, but speaking of allies there may be some allies that may be important—probably not permanently—such as the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and other countries who consider themselves allies of the United States for many years. They didn’t like Donald Trump. They liked Donald Trump, at least at the level of government, because they feel that he restored the relationship, the good alliance, the good, warm feeling. And coming after President Barack Obama, who they feel had dismissed them in the name of protecting and safeguarding the nuclear deal with Iran. Yes, I tell you, of course, I don’t see a big difference in the policies executed whether towards the nuclear deal or Iran’s role in Syria. It’s the same. But they really like being told, yeah, we’re your friends again.
So it’s a very notable thing to see many changes taking place in that part of the world in a good light with Donald Trump. Not saying the public has regained trust in the United States or the legacy of the U.S., they are still doubtful, but it’s noted—it’s worth noting, anyway, how the governments in that region are interacting with the administration of Donald Trump, with Donald Trump himself. And look at the summit in Riyadh and what it produced for him. And they still go on—never mind the real reality of the policies on the ground, they like him.
ROSE: So actually let me take you—that to the two of you. The core American treaty allies, the pillars of the post-war liberal international order, liked Obama and don’t particularly like Trump. But there are a bunch—and regionally in the Middle East and some other areas, there are places where Obama was pulling back a little bit, the second-tier allies, regional allies, didn’t like Obama and maybe are a little more comfortable with Trump. Is that—is there a phenomenon that’s sort of like different regions and different levels of allies had different views, that all you—the states in the package seem to like, but when you go to the next level down there’s a lot of regional variation. Is that true?
O’NEIL: Yeah, I would say the states in the package had had quite strong relations over many years, and then the rhetoric switched in the campaign, many of them, which is what, you know, in Mexico they were worried about, in Japan they were worried about. And it’s really about ameliorating and stopping that, while the rhetoric to Saudi Arabia and places, it changed during the campaign from the Obama approach. So I think there’s a shifting of who’s in and who’s out. So there’s some ill-will or upsetness on those who are moved to the outer circle. I mean, even just in Latin America, thinking about it, there was a moment—which has now passed—but there was a moment where the President of Venezuela, Maduro, thought that maybe—you know, he couldn’t make any headway with Obama, but maybe with this guy I can negotiate. And so for a few months there, he would say a few nice things about Trump. That maybe this is an American we can deal with, that we couldn’t deal with the past one.
ROSE: So why didn’t that work out? Because Duterte tried that also, right?
O’NEIL: He did. The reason it didn’t work on in Venezuela is that you—one, I don’t think the Trump administration yet has a Latin America plan. It isn’t a focus, nor was it a focus in their—in their campaign. Nor do they have people in the various departments in the deep state there to guide that policy. And, two, that there are a group of Republicans who care very strongly about Venezuela and care that this dictatorship, the authoritarian regime there, ends. And so people like Marco Rubio and others are running the policy.
ROSE: OK, so congressional and other things stopping it, because it’s not like he’s a dictator. I mean, there have been dictators coming through this administration right and left.
O’NEIL: Yeah. But there’s a Republican contingent that cares a lot about this policy.
ROSE: This dictator is not like the others, right? (Laughter.) Over here, yes.
Q: Juan Ocampo, Trajectory.
I have a question for Jon. As you’ve pointed out, the people in the State Department and other parts of the government are demoralized, losing effectiveness, maybe slow walking a few things, pushing back on the margin. Are there any circumstances that you could see where the Trump administration, continues doing what they’re doing, maybe worse, that they can make a pushback at the bureaucracy and really matter? You know, is there a tipping point? And is there a mechanism for them to do it, or is it just ongoing slow death?
MICHAELS: I have—I have to say, on the dour note, I’m not sure that there is a clear tipping point, in part because the administrative state is so disaggregated. It’s also why it makes it so much the opposite of a threat, because there’s siloing by substantive matters. So the EPA is getting its—is kind of getting its marching orders. And I think you put it well. They’re slow walking them. And the Department of Interior’s getting its marching orders and they’re slow walking them. We’re not going to see, I think, a kind of a—kind of a crisis of the sort that would lead to kind of mass mobilization or kind of public outcries, because everyone’s kind of looking at his or her little pocket of the administrative state and lamenting that. But it’s hard to get everyone mobilized around any single issue.
We’re much—I think we’re much more likely to find it in the criminal—in the criminal justice areas, particularly with the FBI and the Special Prosecutor’s Office. If there’s going to be that type of kind of move that’s an abrupt move, it would be—you could imagine a scenario in which a large number or a significant number of sort of senior prosecutors or senior FBI officials were to resign in protest to, say, determination or the handcuffing of the special prosecutor. I think that’s the area where we’d find it, if we find it anywhere.
ROSE: Yes, right here.
Q: Thank you. Ivan Rebolledo, TerraNova.
My question is for Shannon. You discussed—I wanted to ask you about who the main drivers are in Mexico that are leading the negotiations with the United States overall. And you talked about Mexico’s engagement with U.S. Congress, governors, trade associations. How is that faring? And where have there been marked successes in those discussions?
O’NEIL: Sure. So the main person overseeing this process is Luis Videgaray, who is now the foreign minister. He was previously the finance minister, and famously worked with Jared Kushner to invite candidate Trump down to Mexico I guess a year ago August, which caused all sorts of havoc in Mexico. It reduced the president’s—the president of Mexico’s public opinion-poll numbers down to almost 10 percent, for which he has yet really to recover. Led to his resignation, but now he’s back and, you know, seen as it was a success because now he had this relationship. So that’s a little bit of a setting. But Luis is running this relationship. He is very in close touch—very close touch with Jared Kushner. He’s running much of the Washington relationship.
But they have in the last few months really spread out and are using the undersecretary, and the foreign minister is really, you know, canvassing the United States, going and meeting with governors and mayors and businesspeople and the like. So you’re starting to see a bit of a broader take there, though at the undersecretary level, not as much at the Cabinet level.
You’re seeing the consulates—there’s over 50 consulates in the United States, Mexican consulates. So they are starting to do a little bit.
You’re starting to see a bit the business community step up. There are lots of Mexican businesses who have ties up here, have suppliers in the United States, have their own investments here in the United States, billions of dollars of investment. So they’re starting to activate and realize they need to make people aware of the importance of Mexico.
So there is this broader strategy. And then, in the specific, things like the NAFTA negotiations which are happening. They’ve finished three rounds. They’re moving into a further round. They have many members of the Mexican government, as well as a business contingent, that are advising them.
So there is a really all hands on deck that is beginning to happen. I would just say it was slower than it probably should be. They didn’t quite realize, I think, as the way the Japanese or others, that they needed to kick into gear and do it on many different levels. But they are now doing that.
ROSE: Shannon, we’ve run some pieces by Latin Americanists likening the current administration to certain kinds of political developments in other countries. Is any element of the Latin American or Mexican response to Trump to say, hey, we’re familiar with this kind of thing because we know these people in our region, and now—we just didn’t expect it in the U.S.?
O’NEIL: No, there is definitely—I, you know, go and meet with people and the—and the conversation is we’ve seen this movie before, but now it’s happening in English, so. (Laughter.)
ROSE: Right. You actually—have actually heard that—you’ve actually heard that line? That’s a great line. OK. (Laughter.) Unbelievable. OK. I’m going to steal that.
Yes, over here. John.
Q: John Wheeler, for Takako.
At the same time that Prime Minister Abe is trying to be as much as possible in lockstep with the U.S. and is managing Trump, as difficult as that may be, there seems to also be a feeling in Japan that, given what could happen, Japan needs to be more independent and take a more leadership role in Asia. And I just wondered—Shannon mentioned TPP—do you see Japan stepping out a little bit more and trying to lead in areas that they see the U.S. withdrawing? I know there are restraints on this domestically and vis-à-vis Korea and all, but what do you see in terms of Japan going forward in that sense?
HIKOTANI: In terms of TPP, they’re going ahead with what’s called TPP-11. So they are going to take the lead and sort of try to keep the door open for the U.S. when—if and when they come back.
And for the security issues that you’re alluding to, since the time that I wrote the piece in June, I think there has been—there still has been calls for having a little bit more of what Japan could do on its own, including counter force, meaning once it’s attacked to be able to counterattack North Korea but not beforehand. But I think the emphasis now is try to make sure that the U.S. deterrence is more something that Japan could feel assured about, and to make sure that U.S. is onboard to make that happen rather than to do things on its own to security. So I’m sure that there might be calls for spending a little bit more in defense, but I think that trajectory of becoming a bigger military power is not really in the Japanese interest in the long term because we’re aging and we just don’t have enough people, our budget there’s constraints. So I think the logical choice, given what’s going on right now, is not so much to try to be go independent in terms of defense, but try and make sure that the U.S.-Japan alliance is intact even during the storm called the Trump administration.
ROSE: That actually—these questions relate to each other because in some ways the question about where this is all going to go and how much things are going to unravel is in part a question about whether one thinks the current liberal international order has significant network effects that act like negative air pressure, keeping people inside. If it were just an old-fashioned, traditional alliance, it would definitely be breaking up and it would be—we’d be seeing realignments and so forth, just like happened throughout all of European history and global history. But if, indeed, the liberal international order is what its advocates have said it is, then there are strong bonds and ties linking things together, and it’s very hard to get out, and it’s very hard even to disrupt, as we’ve sort of seen. And that may create real pressures for people to snap back into it in a positive way down the road if there’s an American partner willing to do that. So I think that’s actually the interesting question, but we don’t know. This is—this is like a—we will be covering this issue in Foreign Affairs up the wazoo because this question of how deep the structural pressures are in the system which way, and nudging things towards which outcomes, is actually just as important as the individual surface events that drive things.
Sorry for the interruption. Yes, back there.
Q: Thank you. Oh, sorry. (Laughs) Sorry about that. My name is Manik Mehta. I am a journalist.
My question is a follow-up to the TPP and the other question which was just asked. Now, Prime Minister Abe was recently in India, and he met Prime Minister Modi, and they seemed to get along very well. There was talk about forming what is called the golden security. Would you know anything about that, and give us an update?
HIKOTANI: That was the meeting right before the U.N.—Prime Minister Abe came to the U.N. General Assembly, right, in September, the visit by Prime Minister Abe that you’re talking about to India, right?
I’m actually not aware of the golden alliance, but I do know that in terms of security relationship and also other aspects, including investment in like bullet trains and all that, Japan does see India to be very important, not just really in terms of hedging type of strategy, but it’s just that in the area. If we see Japan looking towards Asia, it is very important for Japan to work with Australia, India, and other democratic countries in the region, not really to be so in the fact of China but to cultivate relationships that go beyond the traditional alliances in a way.
And I’m not really sure what you—I’m sorry, I haven’t really followed up on what you mean by the golden relationship, but I do know there’s calls for stronger defense ties between Japan, Australia, and India in the region. And I think that is something that is likely to proceed since the chemistry between Prime Minister Abe and Modi seems to be very positive.
ROSE: OK. Yes, in the back here.
Q: My name is Masa Shinozaki with Mitsui, the Japanese trading and investment company.
My question is about North Korea, for Takako-san. The tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have escalated recently, and probably the turning point was that North Korea has the capability to launch a(n) ICBM with possibly nuclear warheads to reach the United States. But the issue is not just between the U.S. and Korea. Japan is involved, South Korea is involved, China is involved, and Russia is involved. Do you—my question is: Do you think that North Korea is going to be a game-changer for power balance in that region?
HIKOTANI: I’m not really sure whether North Korea itself will be a game-changer. But it has been said quite a lot that North Korea being able to reach the U.S. with a nuclear-armed ICBM would be a game-changer for the U.S.-Japan alliance especially, because that would mean that, as I mentioned earlier, U.S. would have to think about protecting Tokyo at the expense of San Francisco.
ROSE: Are the Japanese really worried about that?
HIKOTANI: So if they are—
ROSE: I mean, we lived with—we lived with Europe in that alliance for 50 years.
HIKOTANI: Right. So I think people are looking at what the U.S. have done with Europe during the Cold War, when—
ROSE: So Japanese are looking at extended deterrence questions to see whether this is something they have to worry about.
HIKOTANI: Well, so—
HIKOTANI: So there are fears of decoupling, obviously. And in a way, the North Koreans, what they’ve been doing is almost following the textbook case of how to decouple, right? So in a way, what Japan, like, is thinking right now in terms of its option is how much assurance they can get from the United States, how much they can rely on our alliance, and also the other question, how much is North Korea a country they can deter in a traditional sense of things. And I guess there’s a couple of, like ideas that can come up from the case of Europe, that maybe there could be more reinforcement of conventional forces and some kind of a flexible response type of thing, or there could be—just another idea—a nuclear sharing kind of thing, which I think is brought up more in terms of South Korea. The conservative opposition is bringing up the idea of maybe returning some tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula.
I don’t think Japan has gone that far, although the three non-nuclear principles of not manufacturing, maintaining, or not introducing, the third part—component, there are discussions that maybe we can have like a 2.5 non-nuclear principle, maybe we should need to consider that. But I think we’re not quite there yet. But I think that there is much more hope to the extended deterrence being a likely choice for Japan and something that the U.S. would want to pursue, so it would rather try to keep that open than to go for something else. But it’s also true that things are a little bit more tricky. The easy comparisons with Europe is not—is not very helpful because we do not have the structure that Europe had, as in NATO, in Japan. We are not—we do not have the formal alliances that we did—that you did with—in Europe, so things are slightly different. So that makes it even more important for Japan to be on the same page with South Korea.
And I think the awareness that that’s important is seen by what happened at the U.N. General Assembly. There was a meeting between the heads of states of Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. And I think that shows the awareness that this is the way that the three countries want to go, but we have to be a little bit more aware that both reassurance and deterrence, that kind of question do need to be asked at this point of time, given the North Korean development.
ROSE: I should point out we have a really good North Korea e-book out last week, current. It’s available on the site. It’s actually really good, “North Korea and the Bomb,” very good, North Korea.
Yes, back there.
Q: Hi. Thank you. Kathleen Hays, Bloomberg TV and Radio.
I just want to follow up on the previous question. How is Trump’s—I don’t know what to call it—position, activist stance on North Korea, perceived in Japan now? Does it play into the election at all? But I guess that my biggest question is we’ve heard a lot about Trump pulling back. Well, he’s hardly pulled back on North Korea. In fact, I’ve heard many people comment that four or five presidents allowed us to get to this position where North Korea has all the weapons and missiles at its disposal now, and Donald Trump is the first one to really draw the line. And I’m also curious how that is perceived. Are the Japanese kind of afraid, but glad someone’s finally doing that? Or how is this playing out?
HIKOTANI: Well, to put it differently, there has been missiles shot at Japan for quite a while now, and the most recent development is that it’s shot above us. But that happened in the past before. So, to a certain extent, it’s the U.S. is now aware of the dangers. Maybe it’s good that they notice. But I don’t think it’s translated into the domestic political scene as something that will completely change the dynamics for Japan. It’s more the question of, you know, North Korea can take advantage, the possible decoupling kind of thing can come in. But it’s not the front and forward issue in domestic politics to the extent that it will affect the elections.
Of course, people do follow what President Trump says on North Korea, but that’s not really seen as to be something that changes the domestic landscape of Japanese politics either for the current administration or for the opposition. It’s not that anybody can play upon the uncertainty of the Trump administration to domestic advantage. So I think in some ways people are kind of taking a step back in terms of look at what the options are for Japan and the U.S., and at least it’s not a happy situation for Japan at all no matter which way it goes. But I think they’re trying to be very pragmatic about the way forward and not to be too panicky about what’s happening.
ROSE: Now, one of the hallowed traditions at the Council is we end things on time, so we’re not going to run late. And I want to thank Takako and Shannon and Jon and all of you for a great discussion.
Let me just close on one little meta-point. This is a really hard period to cover, right? We’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve seen individual components here and there. There’s a lot of change. There’s also a lot of continuity. And we’re struggling in grappling with how to cover it in real time—just how serious the disruption is, what is legitimate in the disruption, what are the responses going to be, what are the—how much is long term, short term, all this stuff, how critical to be. This all involves a series of judgment calls. You guys, in many respects, are our core audience, and I would love your feedback in any way, shape, or form on how we’re doing these things—not just the tone of a meeting like this, but the coverage in the magazine—because, I mean, we’re all groping forward.
Most of us here spend our lives dealing with foreigners and talking with them, and when we meet each other—when we meet our foreign counterparts at this point, you don’t know what to say. You just sort of hug each other kind of thing, right? (Laughter.) And, look, I’m not—I’m not—look, in a discussion over the summer of some things, a mutual friend passed on a comment from let’s just say a Henry Kissinger-level figure at—in a major American ally. And the comment was, at the end of the discussion: Isn’t it humiliating for the U.S. to have such a president? Unhappily, it’s also a risk for all of us. That’s what the allies are actually thinking. And I’m not going to be politically correct and deny that if that’s what I actually know. I’m not going to tell the story, I’m not going to tell—I’m not going to tell the name.
But the question we have at a place like Foreign Affairs is, yes, we have a robust American debate. We have a divided political system. We also have a major role in the world as the leader of international order, of a global alliance system, and of 70 years of American foreign policy. And figuring out how to run an intellectual forum for discussion of serious public-policy issues when the agenda hasn’t changed, but there’s a whole new set of political circumstances in which this is going on and nobody really knows what’s happening is very difficult. I know we’re making mistakes, and I know we’re probably pissing off some of you one way or another by being too much or too little or not enough.
Let me know what you want from us, how you think we’re doing, and how we can cover this period better for all of you in all of our various ways. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re doing our best at it, but we know we can do better. I want to thank all of you guys for doing it. And just these are really, really strange times, and we’re trying to get through it together, and live up to the best purposes and mission of this organization and of our magazine, and try and do the right thing. But it’s really tough.
This really, I think, has been a depressing session. But—(laughter)—but, you know, there’s a lot of reason to believe—there are structural reasons to be optimistic as well. So thank all of you, and maybe that—(inaudible). (Applause.)