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How to Be All Diplomatic and Stuff

The main problem with with President Donald Trump’s diplomacy, according to our analysis, is that he’s the most temperamentally undiplomatic person in the entire world. His latest trip abroad has provided supporting evidence for our theory at a rate of every 15 minutes or so.
Even before Trump embarked on a visit to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Belgium and then a less-than-state-visit to Great Britain and today’s summit with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland he couldn’t resist “tweeting” insults about America’s allies and telling the television cameras as he embarked Air Force One that he expected the meeting with Putin would be the easiest part. He started off the NATO meeting by complaining over breakfast a televised breakfast about a natural gas pipeline deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made with Russia, and spent the rest of the time publicly and privately chiding the heads of the other member nations about their deadbeat ways.
Our president left Belgium bragging that NATO was stronger than ever thanks to the defense spending commitments he’d strong-armed the deadbeats into, but French President Emmanuel Macron other NATO leaders told the world press that they’d only reaffirmed a pervious agreement about 2 percent of gross domestic product spending on defense by the next decade, and nobody believed that Europe had acceded to Trump’s extortionist demand for 4 percent spending starting right now. Trump left talking tough about his commitment to NATO, but he’d been conspicuously late to a meeting with the Eastern European nations most nervous about Russian revanchist ambitions, and the rest of the allied leaders and the international press that informs their voters left less sure of America’s commitment to its longstanding treaty obligations.
Trump didn’t demolish Stonehenge, ala Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” but his visit to Britain was similarly undiplomatic. On the way to the United Kingdom he granted a interview a London tabloid called The Sun and took the opportunity to harshly criticize his hostess Prime Minister Theresa May for ignoring his advice about leaving the European Union and saying it had torpedoed the free trade agreement that May had hoped to negotiate when she offered Trump the visit. The itinerary May had generously scheduled kept Trump away from London, whose Mayor Trump has been feuding with over “Twitter” and where tens of thousands of angry protestors and a giant blimp of a diaper-clad Trump clutching a cell phone were packing Trafalgar Square, and instead included a stroll with the Queen at the secluded and well-secured castle where Winston Churchill was born in front the military pageantry that Trump so enjoys, but even there he breached royal protocol ways that were bound to offend the refined sensibilities of the Fleet Street press.
There was no avoiding a joint press conference with May, so when faced with the inevitable questions about the interview with The Sun he dismissed it as “fake news” and talked instead about all the fulsome praise for May that they’d left out. Our guess is that he’d granted the interview to a tabloid with only a slightly better reputation that Trump’s favorite American tabloid The National Enquirer, rather than the Daily Scotsman or The Times of London or another of Britain’s eminently respectable broadsheets of record is that The Sun is owned by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Trump’s beloved Fox News Network in the United States, but he still threatened to unleash his own audio recording of the interview to expose them as “fake news.” He’s yet to make good on the threat, but even The Sun also makes audio recordings of the interview and what they’ve released verifies every word of what they printed, and although the fans back home might love it even the Murdoch-owned Sun readers in Great Britain were left the clear impression that the President of the United States is not only one of those very rude Americans who impose their presence on them but also a liar.
We don’t see any great trade deals coming out of the visit, even though Trump insisted that the “Special Relationship” is more special than ever, but at least Trump got some American and British taxpayer-paid recreation time and much-needed publicity for at one of his still-wholly owned golf resorts in Scotland. A few protestors and that diaper-clad Trump blimp got close enough to Trump’s round that he might have heard the roar or made out blip the blimp, and a paraglider from the far-left Green Peace party penetrated the airspace with a critical slogan waving behind, but we expect Trump still enjoyed the round. It’s the same course where the great Tom Watson beat the even great Jack Nicklaus by on stroke in the legendary “Duel in the Sun” at the 1977 British Open — or more simply “The Open” as the British insist — and we’re sure that with help from his caddie and the mulligans and gimmes generously allowed by his playing from his laying partners Trump surely set the course record.
Trump gets especially loquacious during these international trips, and his many interviews yielded enough diplomatic faux pas and outright falsehoods to provide an entire world of late night television comics with a week’s worth of material. He congratulated the England team in the World Cup soccer tournament on what turned out to a fourth-place finish, and wondered why people say “Britain” instead of “England” even as he was heading to Scotland, which is also a part of Britain, and at another point he seemed to believe that Ireland is still a part of the United Kingdom. During a rare interview with the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Face the Nation” described the European Union as a “foe” before mention China’s economic challenges and Russian revanchism, which he described as merely “competitors,” which is fine by the fans back home but raised plenty of eyebrows overseas.
Trump also boasted that he had better approval ratings among Republicans at this point in her first administration than President Abraham Lincoln, even though public opinion polling wasn’t invented until the 1930s, and surely ranks higher at the moment than Trump. Trump even claimed that he had “doubled and tripled” America’s gross domestic product in a mere 17 months, an obvious absurdity which is only off by $40 trillion dollars or so. If Trump truly had tripled the GDP in his short term, even such skeptics as ourselves would forgive everything else and put him a notch above that gangly guy who saved the Union.
Today Trump will have a very private meeting that Russian dictator, which he’d predicted would be the easiest of them all, and he might yet pull off a diplomatic masterstroke that will wow us and the the rest of the press. He’s assured a rally crowd where he led a chorus of boos against dying Republican Senator and bona fide war hero John McCain that “Putin’s fine, he’s people,” and after “tweeting” that a special counsel’s indictments of yet another 12 Russian officials for meddling in America’s past presidential campaign is still a “witch hunt,” and we don’t see him getting any great deals from Putin.
Stonehenge still stands, though, and we hold out some hope for the rest of our longstanding civilization.

— Bud Norman

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If It’s Doomsday, This Must be Belgium

President Donald Trump’s die-hard fans probably loved his performance Wednesday at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Brussels, as he gave all those freeloading Euro-trash leaders the tough talk that always goes over so well at the endless campaign rallies, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin probably enjoyed it as well. Most of the rest of the world, though, shuddered.
All but two Republican Senators and every single Republican in the House of Representatives preemptively voted for resolutions that affirmed America’s commitment to the NATO alliance Trump was once again criticizing on the way to the summit. When Trump started the meetings off with a rambling breakfast rant about Germany being “captive to Russia” because of a natural gas pipeline project, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and NATO ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson and chief of staff John Kelly sat next to him with the same embarrassed look and awkward posture of the wife of a drunken husband spoiling an otherwise cordial  cocktail party. Unless you really relished the video of Trump socking it to the Euro-trash, it’s hard to see what America got out of it.
Trump did get the rest of the NATO members to reaffirm their commitment to increase defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product in the coming years, which they’d all be working toward since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine long before Trump was elected, and the NATO general secretary generously gave Trump all the credit, but then Trump insisted they immediately start spending 4 percent, which is even more than the 3.58 percent that America spends on defense. Trump is probably right that the pipeline deal between Germany and Russia was a bad idea, but of course he vastly overstated Germany’s reliance on Russian energy, and it’s unlikely he’ll convince German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was a literal captive of Russia when she grew up in East Germany, to back out during the NATO summit. We figure it’s even more unlikely that he’ll press the issue with Putin during an upcoming summit with the Russian dictator that he never seems to criticize.
All of the NATO members except for Turkey are bona fide democracies, except for Turkey, whose autocratic leader Trump never criticizes, and we doubt those country’s leaders will persuade their voters to accept the tax hikes or cuts in other government services to pay for an immediate quadrupling of defense to mollify Trump, who is widely reviled around the world as a bully and the very embodiment of an ugly American. Trump has some legitimate grievances with the the NATO arrangement, but every sane observer in the western world still acknowledge its existential importance, and his tactless style of diplomacy makes it harder for the essential alliance to reach a satisfactory resolution of these longstanding squabbles.
The die-hard fans and the Russian dictator love it, though, and we’re not sure which explains Trump’s rants. Despite the fissures in an alliance that won the Cold War and has mostly resisted Russia’s revanchist ambitions Trump’s rhetoric somehow delights those Americans who resent those smarty-pants Euro-trash countries, and we don’t doubt that figures in his calculations. There’s an ongoing special counsel investigation into the Russian meddling in America’s past presidential election that pretty much only Trump and his most die-hard fans and the Russian dictator accept as an actual fact, and we’d hate to think that past shady dealings with the Russkies is why Trump seems intent on undoing a post-war world order of trade relations and diplomatic alliances.

— Bud Norman

Feuding with Allies and Adversaries

President Donald Trump is in Singapore today, finishing his final preparations for tomorrow’s high-stakes summit with North Korea’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator. We’re holding out hope that it goes well, but the debacle Trump made of a routine meeting in Canada with six of our most stalwart allies over the weekend is not heartening.
Trump arrived late for the Group of Seven’s annual gathering, was tardy to or skipped altogether several of its planned meetings, and left early with trade wars and “Twitter” spats brewing against the other six nations and complaints that Russia’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator wasn’t invited. He was especially harsh about the host country’s pro-American and democratically elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling him “weak” and “dishonest” in in a series of “tweets,” and one of his advisors telling the Sunday morning shows that “there’s a special place in hell” for world leaders who dare invoke the wrath of Trump. He even rescinded America’s routine endorsement of the ritual “final communique “these things usually end with, and although Trump boasted that on a scale of zero to ten America’s relationships with it’s most stalwart allies was a solid ten, and blasted the “fake news” for saying otherwise, the world’s stock markets and most other objective observers around the globe will likely agree things did not go well.
America suddenly finds itself in a war of words and tariffs with Canada, of all places. Canada has an annoying tendency to punt on third downs during their football games and hold its news conferences in both English and French, and they can be awfully smug about their single-payer health insurance program, which we don’t want here, but that hardly seems reason to be feuding with its pro-American and democratically-elected Prime Minister at a time when Trump is lavishing praise on the anti-American dictators in North Korea and Russia. Except for that brief “fifty-four-forty or fight” contretemps way back in 1846 the Canadians have been polite and reasonable neighbors, and given that the size of the population and economy of the country is much smaller than America’s we don’t see them as an economic threat to the United States. Trump might well have some legitimate gripes about existing trade policies over soft lumber or dairy products, but those have always been worked out through existing world trade courts and other institutions without any personally insulting “tweets,” and given that Canada has been stalwart ally in nearly every actual war America has ever fought we can well understand why they resent Trump starting a trade war on the grounds of national security concerns.
Trudeau bluntly told the international press, in both English and that annoyingly redundant French, that although the Canadians pride themselves on being polite and reasonable they won’t be “pushed around,” and that he would go to to the trenches in any old trade war that Trump might want to start. The newly-and-dubiously elected populist leader of Italy agreed with Trump about letting Russia back in the former Group of Eight gathering, but he and the other five heads of states all agreed to retaliate against any tariffs Trump might impose. If this is a ten on a zero-to-ten scale of relations with our most stalwart allies, we shudder to think what a zero might look like.
Trump’s die-hard supporters will love it, of course. Over the weekend we talked with one who regards Germany’s previously pro-American and still democratically-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel as America’s most formidable adversary, and is glad that at long last we have a president who stands up to those snooty Europeans. On all the Sunday morning news shows Trump’s spokespeople were talking about Canada “knifing us in the back,” and explaining that it was a brilliant three-dimensional chess move meant to warn that nutcase North Korean dictator that if Trump is so hard on his most stalwart allies they should surely fear what awaits his adversaries. We can’t shake a lingering worry, though, that Trump is instead playing 52-card pick-up with the post-World-War-II order.
We also can’t shake an even scarier worry that this is all somehow personal for Trump, and has little to do with the more important geo-political and economic realities. Until he rode down that escalator in Trump Tower to launch his presidential campaign we never paid much attention to the failed casino-and-strip-club mogul and reality star, but since then we’ve watched him carefully enough to note that he takes things personally, and that he cares little for geo-political and economic reality. All of the other six heads of state in the Group of Seven, including that populist and dubiously-elected Italian, clearly regard Trump as a boorish and uneducated vulgarian intent on disrupting the post-World-War-II international order, and Trump surely knows that they make fun of of him when he’s not around, just like those swells on Manhattan’s social used to do when the vulgar usurper from Queens once showed up at their gatherings,
There’s also no shaking a worry that Trump’s peculiar antipathy to Trudeau is because the Canadian Prime Minister is objectively a more physically-fit and full-haired and handsome fellow than Trump, with bi-lingual skills and far better poll numbers in his homeland since his feud with Trump started, and that Trump can’t stand that. It’s especially worrisome when Trump segues from his Canadian debacle to that hight-stakes summit in Singapore about the Korean peninsula.
Kim Jong Un is several inches shorter than Trump, and even fatter, with just as ridiculous a hair-do, but we don’t expect he’ll be intimidated. He’s got nuclear weapons and inter-contintental ballistic missiles on his side, as well as an imbalance of power of conventional weaponry poised within range of South Korea’s essential-to-the-world-oder capital, and Trump’s trade wars with the more intimidating nuclear power of China haven’t yet yielded the expected negotiating advantage, even if they have enriched the Trump family’s various businesses. The fact that Trump is feuding with America’s most stalwart allies probably doesn’t worry him at all.
Still, we hold out hope.

— Bud Norman

An Oddly Special Relationship

By now we should be inured to President Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior, as so many Americans seem to be, but we still frequently find ourselves cringing. The latest cringe was induced Tuesday when Trump ran a finger across French President Emmanuel Macron’s blue-suited shoulder and explained to the assembled media that he was wiping off some dandruff.
Trump’s die-hard fans no doubt found it hilarious, more high-browed apologists such as the “Dilbert” cartoonists will no doubt explain he was brilliantly establishing his alpha male dominance in the Franco-American relationship, but we’re sure the rest of the world found it rude and boorish. So far the rest of Trump’s first official state visit from a foreign head of state has proved just as undiplomatic and un-presidential.
Seldom-seen First Lady Melania Trump is getting rave reviews from establishment media for the apparently swell official state dinner she arranged, as well as her elegantly dignified comportment in front of the cameras, but Trump had to settle for the praise of the hard-core fans while the late night comics had great fun with the footage. Trump was filmed grabbing Macron’s hand on the White House porch and pulling him along like a reluctant pet, growled that a reporter’s perfectly reasonable query if Trump will pardon his legally beleaguered personal attorney was a “stupid question,” and touched Macron more often and more familiarly than a head of state should touch another head of state.
Macron arguably started it with that discomfiting kiss on the cheek thing that the French do, and he was also unusually touchy and huggy, even by French standards, but that only made it an embarrassing spectacle for both heads of state. So far as we can tell, the negotiations on weighty matters that the state visit is ostensibly about went no better.
Macron had come to the White House with the stated intention of talking Trump out of withdrawing from the nuclear arms agreement with Iran that President Barack Obama and France and five other European powers had negotiated, and it seems he intended to flatter Trump into acquiescence. Flattery is usually an effective technique with Trump, but it’s unusually hard to talk Trump out of his opposition to that Iran deal. He constantly railed against it as “the worst deal ever made” during his improbably successful presidential campaign, and returned to his campaign rhetoric as he sat next to Macron in front of world’s television cameras and microphones. The public posturing by Trump and Macron is sure to complicate their private discussions.
We’ve always shared Trump’s opinion that the Iran deal was awful, but at this point Macron can make a compelling case that for now we’re stuck with it for lack of a better alternative. By usually reliable press accounts several of Trump’s remaining foreign policy advisers have come to the same conclusion, as did several of his many recently defenestrated foreign policy advisers, and so have the heads of state those six other European powers that in on the deal. Macron has told his own people and the rest of the world that “There is no plan B,” it seems unlikely that Trump will be able to articulate a persuasive one during the private negotiations, and if either head of state caves they’ll have a lot of explaining to do with their hard-core fans.
Although we don’t follow French politics so closely as the American variety, we’re guessing Macron has more to lose. He’s an obviously ambitious fellow, some even say slightly Napoleonic, and clearly pines for pan-European and even global prominence, and if he manages to seduce Trump into the global elite’s consensus with his Gallic charm it will greatly enhance that project. If he fails, though, he’ll be left with his country’s late night comedians yukking it up about their head of state’s embarrassing and literal kissing-up to an American president, even by French standards. Trump is not at all popular in France, nor anywhere else in Europe or most of the rest of the world, and he’s especially unpopular in the world’s halls of power, so Macron’s literal and figurative outreaches to Trump could end very badly.
Which is all the more reason for Trump to stick to the campaign rhetoric that won over those hard-core fans. The fact that those faggy Frenchies and snooty Euro-snobs and wily Orientals and the rest of those “shit-hole countries” largely abhor Trump is all the more reason to love him, as far as they’re concerned, and he’s still right that the hated Obama’s Iran deal was truly awful. Even without a persuasively articulated “Plan B,” Trump could win a news cycle with the hard core fans, who would readily forgive all his faintly homo-erotic fulsome praise and physical embraces for Macron as a brilliant negotiating tactic. After that there’s no telling what will come, but it will probably be something else.
Meanwhile Trump is hoping his alpha maleness will strong arm the rest of the world into his “America First” trade agenda, and Germany’s more seasoned and formidable Chancellor Angela Merkel is the next scheduled official state visitor. There’s also a chance that Trump will be meeting somewhere and someday with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un about his country’s more imminently scary nuclear ambitions. In both cases, we’ll hold out some faint hope Trump will forego the campaign trail insult comic shtick, and articulate some persuasive plan instead.

— Bud Norman

A Bad Weekend in Europe

All the president’s men and women took to the Sunday news shows to talk up his dramatic trip to Europe, with breathless accounts of triumphs we very much wanted to believe, but from our perspective it seemed as slapstick a comedy as Chevy Chase taking the Griswold family on “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.”
The trip began promisingly enough in Poland, where President Donald Trump delivered an uncharacteristically coherent speech before a large and adoring crowd. In his address Trump robustly urged Poland to defend western civilization’s unique values against its enemies, specifically cited the revanchist Russian government’s recent intrusions into Ukraine and other parts of its former Soviet Union empire as an example, and explicitly reiterated America’s Article Five commitment in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to back it up, which had been conspicuously omitted from his last speech in Europe. Even the most Trump-wary conservative commentators effusively praised the speech, which they found a welcome change from the apologetically morally-relativistic and multi-culturalist pablum that President Barack Obama had spewed to foreign audiences over his eight years.
We probably typed as many column inches of annoyance as any of those commentators during Obama’s interminable time in office, and are still as annoyed as any Pole or Czech about him canceling the missile defense deal his predecessor had negotiated with Poland and the Czech Republic as part of his ridiculous “re-set” effort with the Russkies, so we’ll concede that Trump’s speech was a marked improvement. Still, we found ourselves short of being effusive about it. The crowd was large and unanimously adoring because Poland’s government has lately taken an authoritarian turn that does not tolerate dissent any more willingly than did its communist predecessors, so a truly robust defense of Western values should have made mention of that, and it pains us to admit that even Obama’s apologetic and morally-relativistic and multi-cultural speech in Poland at the end of his interminable term did so.
Whatever points Trump might have have scored for western civilization in that speech, he promptly threw them all away in an ensuing joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda. The Polish government has lately been restricting press freedom in ways that Trump can only envy, and Trump expressed his sympathy for the cause by damning most American media as “fake news” before a worldwide media audience. He was particularly irked by the unfavorable coverage of the National Broadcasting Company, explaining it was because he once had a hit reality show on the network, and although capitalism is indeed a western value we don’t think that Trump strike quite the right balance with a free press.
Worse yet, Trump also advised his international audience that it can’t necessarily believe it anything it hears from America’s intelligence agencies. In response to a question from one of those darned NBC reporters if Trump accepted the conclusion of America’s intelligence community that Russia had meddled in America’s past presidential election, the winner of that election said that he thought they might have but so had other countries he wouldn’t name and other people he wouldn’t speculate about, and he recalled how they had been wrong about all sorts of things including an Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program prior to the Iraqi war, and “nobody really knows for sure” what is true. During his winning Republican primary campaign Trump had alleged that Republican President George W. Bush knew from intelligence reports that there was no such program but lied the country into a disastrous war over it anyway, but the current story is that the intelligence agencies had knowingly misled him, and in any of the tellings of the story the Republican Party and America and its intelligence community and the rest of western civilization don’t look good.
All of this complicated the next day’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, of course, but naturally there was an attention-diverting “tweet” from the president early that morning. “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the (Democratic National Committee’s) server to the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and the (Central Intelligence Agency), Trump “tweeted” from Hamburg, Germany, adding “Disgraceful.” In case you don’t follow the news diligently, Podesta was the campaign chairman for vanquished Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, there was some fuss about her e-mails during that long-ago campaign, and even such Trump-wary Republicans as us are still annoyed about it. Not even such an eager-to-believe sycophant as Sean Hannity will buy that’s what everyone in Hamburg was talking about on the opening of a G-20 summit of the world’s 20 largest economies, though, and Podesta was not the head of the DNC and had no authority over it’s e-mail server, so he was thus was able to plausibly “tweet” back about a “whack job president,” and all the president’s men and women seemed relieved it was overshadowed by Trump’s much-anticipated face-to-face meeting with Putin.
Before they got around to that, though, the European Union and the Japanese government had announced negotiations on a free-trade agreement that was clearly a preemptive measure against the protectionist trade policies that Trump had run on in his winning presidential campaign. Trump had treated Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a round of golf at his high-priced Mar-a-Lago resort, and boasted of their personal relationship, but Abe explained his participation in a treaty that will leave the United States automotive industry disadvantaged in the European and Asian markets by saying it demonstrates “a strong political will to fly the flag for free trade against a shift toward protectionism.” A few days earlier German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who now seems to speak for 18 or so — minus Russia — of the countries in the G-20, had stated that “whoever thinks that the problems of this world can be solved by protectionism and isolation lives under a huge misconception,” and Trump is clearly negotiating his art of the deal to make America great again from an isolated position.
Even that disaster was overshadowed by the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin, however, so all the president’s men and women did their best to spin that on on all the Sunday morning talk shows. They all noted that by all accounts Trump did bring up Russia’s meddling in the past presidential election, but Trump had already said that it was based on unreliable American intelligence and that everybody does it, and there was some discrepancy in the American and Russian accounts about whether Trump accepted Putin’s claim that Russia was entirely innocent in the affair. One of the only Russians in the meeting claim that Trump agreed, the American Secretary of State who was one of only three Americans in the meeting quite believably admit that Trump agreed the American media had overstated the extent of Russian meddling, and we assume that at least 19 of the G-20 reached their own conclusions.
We also assume that most of Trump’s die-hard supporters here in the USA don’t much care what a bunch of Eurotrash and Latin and Asiatic globalist opponents think, and take their opprobrium as a badge of honor, but in the long run it probably does matter. Negotiating all those great trade deals to make America great again with a now-unified front of 18 of the world’s strong economies seems trickier than ever, and here in the domestic politics of the USA Trump didn’t do much to quash all that press talk about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia. Over the same weekend The New York Times had Donald Trump Jr. admitting that he and the Trump campaign chairman attended a meeting with a Kremlin-tied lawyer in anticipation of possible dirt on the soon-to-be vanquished Clinton campaign, whose chairman had been undeniably hacked, even if that was Obama’s fault and not Putin’s, and any triumphs from Trump’s visit seem likely to get lost in the next news cycle.
Trump predictably skipped the traditional post-G-20 news conference but “tweeted” his own clarification of his meeting with Putin, unhelpfully explaining that he had already made his position on Russian meddling in the election clear, and added that he was working with Putin to create an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to prevent the sort of hacking that he may or not believe Russia perpetrated. Such Republicans as Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham and John McCain were showing up on the Sunday shows and “tweeting” their skepticism about such a proposal, with Rubio likening it to having Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad partnering in an anti-chemical weapons coalition,  a short time later Trump was “tweeting” his assurance that it wasn’t going to happen, and all in all it didn’t seem a very triumphant end to Trump’s European trip.

— Bud Norman

Reality Intrudes on a Otherwise Nice Weekend

The weather around here was atypically perfect over the Memorial Day weekend, with none of the vicious thunderstorms and potential tornadoes that usually drive all the campers away from the nearby lakes at some point in the holiday, and the news cycle was as slow as one can hope for these days. Still, there was no shaking a certain sense that real life and all its discontents would start up again today.
We did our best to put it aside for a weekend of gratitude to fallen heroes and other uplifting thoughts, attending church and doing some pressing chores and pursuing plenty of procrastinating, while sticking mostly to the sports news. On Monday we slept late and eventually got together with some gray-haired hippie friends who meet every year on the date at a charmingly dilapidated house in a charmingly dilapidated neighborhood, and we had some barbecue and drank some beer and talked mostly about music.
They were playing the Allman Brothers Band on an old stereo sound system, apparently in memoriam of Gregg Allman, one of the eponymous co-founders of the band and its longtime vocalist and organist and songwriter, whose obituary we had noticed in the news over the weekend, and we have to say it sounded great. As natural born rockabillies our tastes in rock ‘n’ roll tend to the pre-hippie generation, and in our relative youth we embraced the punk sensibility that rebelled against those aged hippies, but we could never resist that Allman outfit doing “Crossroads” or “Whipping Post” or especially that enticingly melodic “Jessica,” which we played over and over on our old stereo until it drove our mom crazy, so we shared with our hippie friends a sincere toast to an undeniably crazy old hippie who was also an undeniably great and quintessentially American musician.
There was plenty of grousing about President Donald Trump, too, of course, but our natural born rockabilly punk and old school Republican sensibilities weren’t much stirred to offer any defense. We left early and dropped in an another old friend, a woman who is a bit younger and far punkier than ourselves, and still quite attractive in an exotic and ripened sort of way, and after she she showed us some cell phone video of her cute grandsons she also started grousing about Trump. After such a long friendship she usually avoids political topics with us, but we invited her to vent her spleen without any fear of recriminations. This lead to an eerily civil discussion about our bedrock conservative principles, however weird they might seem at the moment, and even some lengthy discourse some about the authoritarianism on her side of the political divide, and it ended in a hug.
After that we still managed to make the last inning of the Wichita Wingnuts’ home-opening victory over the Salina Stockade at the old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on a glorious early summer night next to the Arkansas River, and although our New York Yankees lost to the Baltimore Orioles the Boston Red Sox also so lost so the Yankees were still comfortably in first place in the American League East. In our perusal of the sports pages we also noticed that Frank DeFord had died and Tiger Woods had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, so it wasn’t a great day in sports. DeFord was until his final day the best sportswriter of his generation, and at one point around 2008 Woods seemed poised to claim the title of greatest golfer and most heroic sports hero ever, and both of those stories came to a sad end over the weekend.
We dropped in on the last Wingnuts inning with a couple of our cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, one of whom is a graying hippie professor at the local university and the other a gray-pony-tailed hippie who still musters a full-throated defense of Trump, and they briefly filled us in on what they’d been arguing about during the home team’s victory. At that point we tried to talk about the home team’s victory, and if we’d arrived early enough to purchase a beer we’d have raised a conversation-changing toast.
We can’t help a late night glance at the news, though, so naturally Trump came up in that. They don’t observe Memorial Day in Germany, so Chancellor Angela Merkel went ahead with a speech that didn’t mention Trump by name but made clear that in “my experience of the last few days” she spent with Trump she had concluded that Europe could no longer count on the support of “outside sources,” and her opponent in the upcoming election more explicitly agreed with her more subtle denunciation of Trump. Our liberal Facebook friends were meanwhile exulting in Trump’s admittedly unusual demeanor during the national anthem at Arlington Memorial Cemetery, and although we don’t think it necessarily damning we have to admit it is unusual. There’s the carry-over from the previous work week’s stories about Trump’s son-in-law and all-purpose appointee, too, and we had to warn our Trump-apologist friend that the upcoming testimony of the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director will likely require some difficult apologetics.
He seemed to take our warning to heed, and inquired about the well-being of our folks, whom he has also lately befriended. We appreciated the sincere inquiry, and assured him they seemed to be doing fine, and felt a hopeful thought that all this politics and sports and whatnot doesn’t really matter.
We also took a moment or two to remember Jerry Clark, who grew up in the Depression at an Atchison orphanage and got his toes blown off at the Battle of Manila in World War II and somehow wound up in the darkroom of the newspaper where we worked as young punks,  where he became one of our very best friends ever. For all the difficulties of his life he was one of the funniest fellows we’ve ever known, and as we face the coming week we’d love to hear what he would say about this particular moment in time.

— Bud Norman

A Dark and Stormy Night

As we glumly contemplate the increasing likelihood that the next President of the United States will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, arguably the two most awful people in the country, some of our more upbeat friends try to console us that at least it couldn’t be possibly be worse than the past seven-and-a-half years or so have been. President Barack Obama’s recent tour of Europe lends some credence to the theory, but it doesn’t hold out any hope that things will get better.
In case you were too riveted by the two party’s competing reality shows, Obama did pretty much everything wrong on his trip. In England he offered an obviously inadequate excuse for sending a bust of Winston Churchill back home and threatened that if the country chose to opt out of the European Union in a referendum scheduled for June that he would put the country at “the end of queue” in trade negotiations, and in Germany he endorsed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s catastrophic immigration policies and touted their work together on the trade deal that Germany is first in queue for and most of the German public also understandably opposes.
Back in the “Hope and Change” days of Obama’s ’08 campaign a majority of the American electorate had some crazy hope hope that he would change the rest of the world’s mind about America after eight years of George W. Bush’s cowboy foreign policy, and the rest of the world fell for it, too. Most of England had high hopes for change that were dashed when Obama not only snubbed Winston Churchill but the current prime minister and the two countries longstanding special relationship at large. By the time he showed up seven-and-a-half-years later to try and bully the English into the sticking with the EU even the polite chap from the British Broadcasting System was emboldened to ask him what business of it was his.
There was a huge crowd of Germans at the Brandenburg Gate when Obama gave that wildly-reviewed speech about how communism and the Berlin Wall had fallen because the whole world stood together, even though he and all the people he’s appointed stood against the controversial Reagan policies that brought it about, but by now even the Germans are wised up. They hate the Islamization of their country that Merkel’s insane policies are bound to cause, they’re in a protectionist mood that is understandable if not quite logical, and they’re very much over that “hope and change” thing from ’08 and nearly nostalgic for that crazy cowboy George W. Bush.
As bad as it was, we can’t see it getting any better any time soon. Clinton’s victories on Tuesday made her nomination once again inevitable, and she was the Secretary of State during the first disastrous first years of Obama’s presidency. She was the one who sold out the Czechs and Poles and Hondurans and Israelis and countless other allies and offered that laughably mistranslated “re-set” button to the Russians, who are now as problematic for Englishmen and Germans and other European folk as the Islamists that Clinton insists have nothing to do with terrorism, and she doesn’t seem much of an improvement. There’s still faint hope she’ll be indicted or otherwise somehow be overcome by popular Democratic Party opinion and the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but we can’t see that working out any better.
Trump’s victories on Tuesday made him slightly less but still worrisomely inevitable as the Republican nominee, but we have no hope that change would be for the better. He wouldn’t be endorsing Merkel’s culturally suicidal immigration policies, at least, although there’s no telling how what he’ll say about Britain and the European Union, but he’d probably be ridiculing the looks of both country’s leaders and making unmeetable demands, and his past praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top-notch foreign policy expert’s long record of business dealings with and profuse apologies for Putin suggest he’d re-set relations with that country to something along the lines of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. We’re not entirely sure that long-shot Republican challenger Sen. Ted Cruz would be much better, given that even he uses “neocon” as a pejorative, but at this point he’s our best hope for a positive change.
Sorry to be so glum, but it was a dark and stormy day here on the prairie, and the evening’s news was even worse.

— Bud Norman

That Uncertain Time of the Year

For some reason or another Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue always gets some amount of attention, even though it’s the only time other than a dental appointment when you’re likely to be aware of Time Magazine’s continuing existence, and this year they have designated Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel for the honor. By now it’s no bigger a deal than an Academy Award or a Nobel Peace Prize or any of the other once-prestigious titles, at least as far as the average person is concerned, but it’s always a reliable indicator of what the more important sorts of people are thinking.
In this case it’s clear they’re thinking that a massive influx of immigrants from the most troubled parts of the world is just what western civilization needs to maintain its economy and sense of self-righteousness. Merkel didn’t get such profuse praise from the press when she took power as a center-right alternative to Germany’s previous more liberal leaders, and certainly not when she was wisely rejecting President Barack Obama’s pleas for a coordinated stimulus effort to revive the world economy after the 2008 recession, or when she was stubbornly insisting that Greece’s latest bail-out come with harsh conditions of fiscal rectitude, but now that she’s insisting Germany and the rest of Europe welcome millions of refugees from the Middle East’s wars and general inhabitability she enjoys a newfound respectability. Her stand on immigration is not popular in Germany, or anywhere else in the western world, but that impresses the editors of Time Magazine all the more. “She is not taking the easy road. Leaders are tested only when people don’t want to follow,” the article enthuses, “For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is Time’s ‘Person of the Year.'”
It seems to us that Merkel is asking her people to surrender their country to an incremental invasion by a markedly inferior culture, that her imposition of her own will over that of her people is itself tyrannical, that she’s doing it for the merely expedient reason of coping with her country’s below-replacement-rate fertility, which is likely a result of an enervating social welfare system and civilizational self-doubt that the centrist and childless Merkel has not addressed, and although we’ll readily agree that moral leadership is in short supply around the world she hardly seems an exception to that rule. Nor do we expect that that such leadership will inspire many followers, in Germany or elsewhere, so her influence on events will likely be short-lived. Those who prefer political correctness and economic expedience to the survival of western civilization will applaud Merkel’s defiance of popular opinion, but they won’t prevail without an ugly fight.
with such respectable leaders as Merkel currently in power in most western countries, the widespread public opposition to their insane policies has too often found voice in the most disreputable sort of parties. The National Front is the big beneficiary in France, similarly nationalist and authoritarian parties are rising throughout Europe, and of course in America all the news is about Donald Trump’s front-running status in the Republican primary race. This makes the likes of Merkel all the more attractive to the likes of Time Magazine, but it won’t make much difference.
Trump’s “tweets” on the issue suggest he is slightly miffed he didn’t get the honor, and we’ll concede that he’s far more likely to have the greater ultimate influence on events than Merkel and all the other open-borders leaders around the world, but at least the editorial didn’t include him with such past “Persons of the Year” as Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin and Ayatollah Khomeini. We note he was at least among the finalists for the title, along with the former Bruce Jenner, the Black Lives Matter movement, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the guy who came up with the “Uber” application. Putative Leader of the Free World Barack Obama didn’t make the cut, despite his own moral leadership on behalf of western civilization’s collective suicide, and neither did any of the Republican candidates who are forcefully arguing for sensible immigration policies, so it’s going to a take a hell of a person next year to set things right.

— Bud Norman

The Noise in Israel and the Quiet Elsewhere

Every few years or so Israel has to wage war against the Islamist terror gangs that want to kill every Jew in the world, and the current unpleasantness is much the same as all the other occasions. What’s conspicuously different this time around, however, is that most of the world doesn’t seem to mind Israel defending its citizens.
The usual outraged demonstrations have been strikingly absent from the public squares of the Islamic world, leftist indignation in the west has been relatively muted, and many of the governments in the west have been surprisingly supportive of Israel. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and even the avowedly socialist French President Francois Hollande, whose country saw a few local Islamist terror gangs attack the local synagogues, have all called Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu with words of support. All of those calls came in before Netanyahu heard from the United States, which was formerly Israel’s best friend but has lately been more interested in dictating its housing policies and hectoring it to accept a so-called “peace treaty” with the same Islamist terror gang that is now indiscriminately lobbing rockets into their country, but even the current administration has accepted Israel’s right to self-defense in its public statements. Not so unequivocally supportive as Canada and its conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in this strange new world we find ourselves living in, but accepting nonetheless.
It would feel nice to attribute this strange new understanding to the world’s sudden ability to see the world with moral clarity, and to understand that Hamas’ rain of rockets on Israel hasn’t killed thousands only because of the Jewish state’s amazing “Iron Dome” missile defense system and that Israel’s retaliatory strikes against the launch sites have killed only hundreds because of their extraordinary efforts to prevent civilian casualties, but this is too hopeful. The public squares of the Islamic world are probably quiet only because the people gathered there are distracted by the many more thousands of co-religionists who are being slaughtered by the nominally Muslim government of Syria and the Islamist terror gang that has spilled over from that conflict into an all-out assault on Iraq. The Arab and Sunni governments of the region don’t have the usual motives to whip up anti-Israel sentiment among their restive populations, not when the rockets are being supplied by a Persian and Shiite Iranian theocracy that poses a far more frightening threat than Israel ever would. Those suddenly supportive western governments are probably making the same calculations, with a wary eye on the Islamist terror gangs living happily on welfare within their borders, and might well revert to their traditional moral relativism as soon as it is politically expedient.
Still, at this moment the tide of international opinion seems to have turned in Israel’s favor, and given that Hamas’ futile rocket-lobbing was never intended as a military victory but only a public relations coup, that bodes well for a total Israeli victory. In an ill-timed op-ed piece published in an Israeli magazine just days before Hamas started indiscriminately lobbing rockets into Israel, President Barack Obama was still urging the adoption of his proposed peace deal with the Hamas-affiliated government and claiming it would “help turn the tide of international opinion and sideline violent extremists,” but despite the Israeli’s wise decision to argue his advice the world seems willing to side with Israel’s right to sideline the violent extremists with some pin-point missile strikes at sites the civilians are long forewarned to stay away from. Perhaps this is another example of leading from behind, but it looks more like another botched attempt to keep up with rather than ahead of world opinion.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

All of the attention is currently focused on the continuing train wreck that is Obamacare, naturally enough, but it is worth noting that America’s foreign policy is also going off the rails.
The last time Americans took notice of the rest of the world was when President Barack Obama tried unsuccessfully to whip up some enthusiasm for a bigger-than-a-pinprick-but-still-“unbelievably-small” war in Syria, and when that crisis was outsourced to Russian President Vladimir Putin and receded from the headlines the country happily resumed its inward gaze. Without an imminent threat of war, even an unbelievably small one, most people assumed that except for the unpleasantness in that Kenyan shopping mall and the usual massacres of Christians in Pakistan and Nigeria all was once again well with the world. Our international relations have actually been going so badly, though, that the results are starting up in the midst of all those horror stories about Obamacare.
Even The Washington Post, which is usually loathe to report anything embarrassing to the administration, seems alarmed by America’s recent estrangement from Saudi Arabia. The paper’s veteran foreign affairs writer David Ignatius likens the situation to a car wreck, the train wreck metaphor apparently having been reserved for the Obamacare stories, and although he allots some of the blame to the Saudis he does not spare the Obama administration his criticism. He notes that in the past week Saudi Arabia has declined to take a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council as a deliberate affront to America, and notes that the former Saudi intelligence chief publicly expressed “a high level of disappoint” in America’s stands on Syria and Palestine. There’s also a great deal of Saudi disappointment in America’s weak response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which threaten all of the Arab and Sunni Islam world, and in Obama’s support for the radical Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere, and a “knowledgeable Arab official” is quoted as saying that the Saudi monarch “is convinced the U.S. is unreliable.”
The Saudi monarch is a terror-loving tyrant running a backwards and troublesome land with typical Middle Eastern brutality, but his country has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy in the region since Franklin Roosevelt started sucking up to it back in the ‘30s. Losing Saudi Arabia to the Russian sphere of influence, along with its considerable economic clout and central position in the Muslim world, is a worrisome development. Worse yet, this time the Saudi’s concerns are all quite reasonable, except for the lack of appreciation for America’s Israel-bashing attempts to coddle the Palestinians, and are shared by such essential allies as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and of course Israel, which has its own reasons to worry about Iranian nuclear bombs and American fecklessness. Throw in the reports that Secretary of State John Kerry is facing the same sort of dissent within his own State Department over the still-lingering-despite-the-news-blackout Syrian civil war, and America’s Middle Eastern policy seems in complete disrepair.
Crucial allies in other parts of the world have also been dissatisfied with America’s conduct in recent years. In Germany, where Obama was treated as a sort of messiah when he spoke to an adoring throng while campaigning there for some reason or another during the ’08 campaign, the big story if Chancellor Angela Merkel’s anger at the revelation America had been listening in on her cell phone conversations. White House spokesman Jay Carney has huffily denied that America is doing any such thing, but he conspicuously declined to deny that America has done in the past, and the omission did not go unnoticed in Germany. Revelations about the National Security Agency’s extensive data-gathering outraged many of the Americans whose phone records and internet use were being monitored, even if the press politely let the topic drop from the news, but Germans who are still smarting from the snoopiness of the Stasi secret police in communist East Germany and the Gestapo of an earlier era are understandably even touchier about such things. The rest of Europe seems miffed, too, and its Parliament has now threatened to stop cooperating with American intelligence efforts.
Obama won the presidency and wowed those naïve German crowds by promising to make America the most popular kid in the international school cafeteria, but that seems to be going about as well as the promises that Obamacare would lower your insurance premiums, allow you to keep your coverage, and be a model of bureaucratic efficiency.

— Bud Norman