Having spent the night reassessing my plans for Super Bowl Sunday after reaching the sobering conclusion that the Patriots can’t beat mobile quarterbacks, I woke up Monday expecting to read something about how the Trump administration had come to a similarly sobering reassessment of its own, that maybe we need to be a little tougher on our alleged allies in Saudi Arabia.
Instead we are greeted by radio silence on the Saudis and news that the administration refused to let an academic from sleepy little Vermont speak at a NATO conference in Denmark.
Apparently the idea that Stanley Sloan, an expert on the transAtlantic alliance and visiting professor at Middlebury College, had been critical of Trump before and might criticize the administration again was enough to lead Carla Sands, the US ambassador to Denmark, to bar Sloan from the conference. Organizers didn’t feel they could go forward in good conscience and canceled the event. At least they have a conscience.
So, for all you keeping score, a professor from Vermont critical of the president’s foreign policy is barred from taking part in a conference with our allies, while the Saudi government, whose country supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11, whose operatives murdered a journalist for the Washington Post who was critical of the regime, and who most recently returned our generosity by sending over an Islamic extremist from their military who murdered three US servicemen in Florida, gets more wet kisses on both cheeks. Anyone who doesn’t think there’s something wrong with that probably would have turned their parents into the Stasi if they lived in East Germany during the Cold War, when Sloan, a former CIA analyst and specialist in international security with the Congressional Research Service, was serving his country in the Soviet bloc, trying to convince communists that Americans really did believe in democracy, including tolerance for dissent.
A generous reading of this debacle is that it’s just another example of the State Department kowtowing to the infantile insecurity of its petulant Dear Leader. A more sober conclusion is that the United States cannot be considered the leader of the free world if official government policy is that criticism of the president is not tolerated.
When I spoke to Sloan on Monday in Vermont, he sounded more sad than angry. He had received an outline, which noted that Sands would speak at the conference before him. In what is either ironic or sad, and probably a little of both, Sloan’s prepared remarks included complimentary words for the ambassador, recognizing her support for the values and the strategic importance of NATO to both the United States and Denmark, a staunch ally.
But on Saturday, Sloan got an e-mail from the Danish organizers of the conference telling him that Sands, who was an actress and a chiropractor before Trump appointed her ambassador, had vetoed his participation.
Sloan was, in fact, going to criticize the Trump administration’s undermining of NATO, as he has in the past, saying it had hurt the transAtlantic alliance with its lukewarm support of NATO and its too warm attitude toward Russia.
Sloan says barring him from the conference is “disastrous for America’s image abroad.”
“I’ve been doing public policy programs for 40 years, and even went to Poland when it was a communist regime and spoke there,” he said. “It’s something I’ve bragged to audiences about, that the State Department will sponsor people who will be critical of our own government. I have been critical of policies of both Democratic and Republican administrations over the years, because that’s my job. My experience with the State Department’s public policy programs is that they honor different points of view. It is a sign of American democracy, demonstrating that we can tolerate and that a democracy can withstand having debate. That approach strengthens democracy. This approach weakens our democracy.”
Sadly, it’s getting weaker every day.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.