Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Can Jared Kushner Do His Job? What Job?

In my film version of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, I'm casting John Kelly as the unnamed governess, Donald Trump as poor little Miles, and Jared Kushner as the unspeakably evil, but possibly imaginary, ghost of Peter Quint. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times.
I can't get over all the solemn concern as to whether Jared Kushner will be able to do his job without a security clearance—like Mara Liasson audibly shaking her head on NPR: "He won't be able to read the President's Daily Briefing!", that single page of amply illustrated bullet points highlighting stories where the president's name shows up. Imma come right out and speculate there isn't that much classified information in the PDB anyway, not only because the governess is afraid Trump might get angry, or pass what he learns to Putin or Netanyahu or who knows who, just by way of showing off how clued in he is, but because there's no real positive point in it—what useful thing would Trump be able to do with such information? He doesn't even believe it if it doesn't show up on Fox.

Trump doesn't read the PDB himself, as we know. If you're wondering why they bother to produce the thing, I'll explain out of my deep knowledge of the behavior of stupid people in positions of power: it's about the maintenance of rank and status, like (to take an almost random example) the job of the Duc de Beauvillier, First Gentleman of the Bedchamber, who was one of the courtiers appointed to hold the train of the heir to the throne during the funeral of the Grand Dauphin in 1711, and who fell into a panic because the other two bearers were not dukes—should he stand markedly closer to the new Dauphin than they were, or farther away?

People continue writing the PDB because it's a mark of how important they are, and if they stopped that would demonstrate to everybody else in the West Wing that they were less important than they used to be. Similarly the most important aspect of what's happened to Kushner is that it's a "downgrading" or humiliating descent in the White House pecking order.

There's no reason to think Kushner actually has made use of the classified information he's had access to; for example, in the Palestinian peace process portfolio, where he's been unable to stop the Emperor from declaring Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish state and planning to move the US embassy there (an interim embassy is expected to go into operation later this spring in the consular compound in Arnona, where the ambassador will have to commute from his home in Herzliyya outside Tel Aviv until the authorities find him a secure place to live in Jerusalem, which is evidently not that easy), putting an end to the peace process. Unless putting an end to the peace process was the job, under orders from Trump or Netanyahu, in which case it was his secret from the intelligence community, not the other way around.

There's not any reason, in fact, to think Kushner has made use of any public information either in working on the Middle East peace process or on Mexico, with whom relations now stand at an all-time low, President Peña Nieto having been forced to cancel a visit to the US for the second year in a row because President Trump refuses to refrain from hectoring the Mexican leader with his fantasy of Mexicans "paying for the wall". There are good reasons to think he doesn't know anything about either, or care to know. Knowing things is not part of his working style, as we learn from Kyle Pope's reminiscences of serving as editor of The Observer when Kushner was publisher:
MOST WEEKS, KUSHNER NOT ONLY DIDN’T READ the Observer, he didn’t appear to read anything else, either. I never knew him to discuss a book, a play, or anything else that was in the Observer’s cultural wheelhouse. His circle of friends was fairly limited, largely tech executives and other successful business people, a smattering of celebrities, and a coterie of much older successful men....
Even politics seemed to lie outside his area of interest. Every week, Kushner and I held a conference call with the Observer’s editorial writer, who would pitch ideas for the paper’s two main editorial slots. These ideas usually touched on state, local, or national politics. Kushner almost never showed any interest in what tended, at the time, to be the hottest and most pressing issues of the day.
He bragged that he never read The New York Times, though he did seem to care what was in the New York tabloids and The Wall Street Journal.
The only thing we read about him really caring about as publisher, here and in the memories of another editor, Elizabeth Spiers, were shrinking the payroll, as a method of making the publication profitable.
That and watching out for for his real and perceived business enemies, as when Kushner demanded that Pope produce a "hit piece" on a Bank of America official who had fallen foul of the family (Pope's refusal was the beginning of his downfall). There's no reason to think he approaches his foreign policy and other duties any differently, which is exactly what we just heard from the Washington Post:
Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter. 
Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said. 
Especially the UAE and China in this case, where the authorities have something to offer the Kushner family something it really values, money and ways of hiding it. Why would he need a security clearance for that?

The US Embassy-to-be in Jerusalem; photo by Jim Hollander/European Pressphoto Agency. The Times reports, "Within the compound sits a decades-old former hotel, aptly named The Diplomat, which the Americans rent out as a facility for elderly Russian-speaking immigrants. Laundry hangs on lines outside some of the windows.... Another small stone building in the compound houses the head office of Burgers Bar, a popular Israeli food chain."

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