Brady Kiesling. The diplomat who objected to the war on Iraq, comments on the US elections

Brady Kiesling. The diplomat who objected to the war on Iraq, comments on the US elections

He is a former ancient historian/archaeologist from California who returned to scholarship after a twenty-year detour working as a diplomat for the U.S. State Department in Israel, Morocco, Greece, and Armenia. He was the first of three U.S. foreign service officers to resign, on February 25, 2003, to protest against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In consideration of US Elections I asked Mr Kiesling a few maybe "painful" questions.

(Greek edition)





How do you explain that Donald Trump is closing the polling gap in many States with Hilary Clinton? 

American society is deeply divided, like every society. We attempt to impose arbitrary definitions of that division, like left versus right or conservative versus liberal, or Republican versus Democrat. But a very important division, one that often gets masked by one of the above categories is that between people who feel their own intellect and skills are an adequate tool for survival and others who believe the only asset they can rely on is their loyalty to a leader or a team.


Americans with a certain level of education and the attitudes that education reinforces have no doubt that Hillary Clinton is the better candidate. Her policies are, in most though not all cases, based on a rational assessment of what will benefit the American people as a whole. But most Americans, indeed most of the world’s population, are deeply skeptical of anyone’s ability to understand their best interests. They know their brains will never make them rich. They deeply resent the smugly educated classes who seem certain of their superiority. They distrust, often for good reason, the elected and appointed officials who mobilize and allocate public resources. And they vote to punish those whose rhetoric and life story undermines their valuation of their own attributes.


Another key point is that most Americans, with no personal experience of war or famine, have no idea what politics is for. They see it as a form of entertainment, and vote for the president who entertains them best. Trump understands the world of professional wrestling, the outsized theatricality. Clinton doesn’t.


A third point is that the American working class is being squeezed economically, though the economy “on average” is doing okay. In tight economic times, you instinctively get tougher and more tribal. White backlash against Obama in real though hard to measure. Still you look to your tribe and try to find the candidate who most closely aligns with it and seems mostly likely to appreciate the only thing you have to offer, which is your loyalty. Clinton is a technocrat, and her commitments are bureaucratic and diffuse enough that people don’t understand the social capital involved. Trump acts like an African “Big Man” or Mafia don, for whom loyalty and commitment are personalized. People imagine – and this is insane given his history as a businessman – that Trump will see their vote as something he will reward rather than mercilessly exploit. 

 Trump acts like an African “Big Man” or Mafia don, for whom loyalty and commitment are personalized.


Does really matter who will be the next president?

Hillary Clinton is a manager. She has never solved a conflict, but she has worked diligently as secretary of state to keep them from getting worse. Her hard line on middle eastern issues is primarily an electoral necessity, and I have reason to believe her real views are somewhat sympathetic to peace and stability in the Muslim world. She will not deliberately destroy one of the key accomplishments of the Obama administration, the fragile accord with Iran. She believes that climate change is a real problem to be address, and thinks everyone must pay a fair share in taxes to fund solutions. Trump sees the presidency as a vehicle for flattering his enormous ego. Because he does not care about problems or solutions, he will cede control to people with very clear and selfish agendas: If America is a lifeboat in stormy seas, not only is the lifeboat full, but a friend of Trumps gets to control the drinking water and you must pay him to drink it.



Americans believed Bush that U.S didn' t want war against Iraq. When you have been convinced that the president lied you quit. Do you believe that Tsipras Administration behaved similarly (inconsistency between promises and his governmental work? 

It’s not that Americans believed President Bush when he said that war with Iraq was a last resort. They sensed war was coming, but most of them didn’t mind. American voters accord the U.S. president relatively great freedom of action on foreign policy (though much less on domestic policy). After September 11, 2001, Bush had carte blanche for some large, violent act. He chose Iraq for a number of mostly stupid reasons, but most Americans were willing to trust his judgment.


The situation of the Tsipras government was quite different. Tsipras was and remains ideologically committed to the survival (and ideally expansion) of the Greek state. His voters embraced that statism – and not the rhetoric of revolutionary overthrow -- as the core of his program. Many if not most Greeks understood his rhetoric about rupture with the Troika as a tactical stance rather than strategic pledge. Once elected, Tsipras realized that the state would not be able to pay wages and pensions unless it reached an accommodation with creditors. His referendum was an act of desperation and political theatre, and he genuinely did not know what the outcome would be. But he correctly understood that a “No” vote was not automatically a vote for Grexit, bankruptcy, and the collapse of the state. He took the safe course, and signed the only deal Europe was prepared to offer him.



Hilary's Clinton supporters say that she is mush experienced. How is it possible for the party of Thomas Jefferson and John Kennedy to choose Hilary Clinton as candidate? Was she really the Democrat's best choise?

 Politics has become a profession, like dentistry. Like in dentistry, the details aren’t always very romantic. Professional politicians tend to lose a lot of their youthful idealism and charisma over time. Brilliant, charismatic newcomers like Barack Obama are scarce, and they face tremendous obstacles from the entrenched professionals in bringing about the reforms they promise. So it isn’t surprising that Washington is full of self-absorbed, manipulative people.

It will take a substantial disaster to open a path for candidates to run successfully as independents on the national level

Jefferson and Kennedy may have been articulate and charismatic, but they were deeply flawed as human beings. Clinton’s flaws are much more minor, though her gifts are also not as remarkable. If America needs a dentist, Clinton is by far the best choice, because she will work conscientiously to fix your teeth and the price she charges will be the prevailing one. Donald Trump will steal your gold fillings and infect you with something nasty, then brag about it to his friends.


You will say that voters want leadership, not dentistry. True, but the American public cannot agree on where it wants to be led. Until some unifying catastrophe occurs to change that, we should at least have teeth that don’t ache.



From the other hand, how is it possible for Republicans, the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosvelt, to give Donald Trump the nomination to represent the party while party "sacred cows" (Colin Powel, Condoleezza Rice) expressed their denial to support him? 

There are no sacred cows in American politics. Elder statesmen have very little influence in the cutthroat competition to decide who gets to appoint whom to what government job, and who will pay taxes to support which group of billionaires that will hire them when that job is over. The Republicans had a strategy that worked well for many years. They built a coalition of uneducated white males and evangelical voters by promising a ban on abortions and lots of guns. Meanwhile, their real policy was deregulation of business and reduced taxes on the wealthy. That was enough, because of the distribution of their voters and strategic redistricting (Gerrymandering), to assure a majority in Congress under most circumstances. To win the presidency, however, they needed a good candidate. Unfortunately, the criteria by which their core voters judge candidates during the primary elections are incompatible with broader acceptability among independent voters, women, and minorities.


Trump one the nomination because he was authentically himself, a crass jerk who entertained the public with promises of the magic tricks he would perform as president (“Build the Wall”). Most of his opponents both were and seemed to be slick, pious frauds. They were thus ignored, even by the evangelicals they counted on. The exceptions like Kasich were precisely the kind of leader the white underclass despises, a reasonably earnest, reasonably technocratic governor.



Why US people didn't trust Sanders? Does American two party system condemn independent candidates?

Senator Sanders flourished in Vermont, a state with a relatively educated, independent-minded electorate. He had the advantage of being little-known, and could portray himself as a political outsider. However, he is not miraculously charismatic. He did not offer policy solutions ordinary Americans believe would work, nor did he offer magical solutions as an alternative, as Donald Trump had. The Democratic Party mechanism did not trust him, because he owed it no favors. Older Democrats remembered the electoral debacle of McGovern, another bright, articulate, charming progressive. So the party mechanism supported Clinton, giving her a major though not insurmountable advantage. They were evenly matched as suitable candidates, and institutional advantages gave her the victory.


The two-party system has evolved in response to circumstances. The results it produces are unimpressive. Still, remember that Trump himself is an independent candidate, who ran against the Republican establishment. It will take a substantial disaster to open a path for candidates to run successfully as independents on the national level, though on the state level it is much easier.



Do US Elections Affect Greece?

Hillary Clinton is the candidate of business as usual, and she will maintain most of Obama’s sensible stewardship policies. The big exception is Syria, where she will push hard for a solution and probably fail.


Donald Trump has made opposition to the Iran nuclear a key element in his campaign. His election would lead to a new clash with Iran that will put Greece in a very difficult position. At the same time he is pushing for U.S. disengagement in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and putting NATO on a pay-as-you-go basis. He will back off from much of this, I assume, but we can’t exclude a U.S.-EU rupture and trade war or else a new explosion in the Middle East that will kill off tourism, send energy prices skyrocketing, and multiply Greece’s refugee problem by a factor of ten.


For undocumented Greek immigrants in the U.S. the situation will presumably get worse under Trump. He is a fan of Brexit as well, and a weakened EU is probably not in Greece’s best interests. 



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