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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 ┬ácocktail 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

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From Belgium to Arizona to the Latest “Tweet”

Another deadly Islamist terror attack, this time in Brussels, Belgium, the capital of the European Union and headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The President of the United States spent a full 51 seconds expressing his concern about the matter before launching into some happier talk about his communist Cuban hosts, and then spoke about it again at somewhat greater length with a fawning interviewer from the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network while taking in a baseball game, and the usual talk about a religion of peace and worries about a backlash followed in the usual places, and then the news moved on to more novel stories.
Say what you want about the presidential primary races, there’s no denying their novelty. A bit of actual reality showed up in the Republican’s reality show, however, as the two remaining viable candidates both weighed in on the slaughter in Brussels. Front-runner Donald J. Trump, the self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-etcetera mogul, argued that some good old-fashioned torture would have prevented the tragedy, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was critical of both the administration’s continuing reluctance to address by the problem of Islamist terrorism by name and Trump’s apparent ambivalence about America’s European alliances in general and NATO in particular.
There’s some concern on the more or less respectable left that each terror attack further drives a frightened public into the arms of such a proudly tortuous tough guy as Trump, who once shaved the burly Vince McMahon’s head in a World Wrestling Entertainment production called “Battle of the Billionaires” and has bagged more babes than you’ll ever dream about, believe him, and that might yet prove worth worrying about. A double-whammy of attacks in San Bernardino and Paris knocked the mild-mannered neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson out of the race and into the arms of Trump a while back, and the Democrats understandably poll very poorly with their it’s-nothing-to-do-with-Islam stands, and Trump’s sizable horde of followers think anyone with a reluctance about torture is a “pussy,” which is apparently acceptable political parlance these days. There’s still some hope on the more or less respectable right that the public will be nudged to choose someone with a well-informed and keenly strategic mind and statesmanlike temperament, and pay enough attention to Trump’s rambling remarks and and impolitic impulses to notice that he’s not such a man, and that whatever well-justified frustrations we have with Europe they are an important part of our economy and the entire western civilization project, and that European alliances and NATO might yet come in handy again.
The death toll in Brussels didn’t stop the juicier parts of the Republicans’ reality show, however, as some naked pictures of Trump’s latest wife and a bit of libel against Cruz’ fully-clothed wife were both something novel to move to on. An anti-Trump political action committee not affiliated the Cruz campaign apparently had an internet page that featured the aforementioned naked pictures, with some copy suggesting this was not a particularly First Lady-like thing for a woman to have posed for and adding that anyone who was offended might consider voting for Cruz. Although the PAC was not affiliated with the Cruz campaign Trump apparently assumed it was, and he “tweeted” out that “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used an picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!
Trump’s libelous insinuation that he has reputation-ruining information against a rival’s wife and is withholding it at the threat of blackmail strikes us as a rather big story, too, but this won’t be the first time it’s gone largely unnoticed. A similar libelous insinuation and threat of blackmail was made against the Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, who had contributed to another anti-Trump PAC that was running a long-overdue ad featuring some of Trump’s more outrageously misogynistic statements, and he also made a thus-far hollow threat to sue the Canadian-born Cruz over his eligibility to run for the presidency unless he also stopped saying critical things about Trump. He’s also promised to “open up the libel laws” so that anyone who writes anything “mean” about him will “have problems, such problems,” so it’s no surprise that he’s willing to let the public remain unaware of crucial information about a potential First Lady or overlook a looming constitutional crisis if they’ll just bow to his Nietzschean will to power. So far Cruz, who enjoys a reputation as a shrewd lawyer even among his most bitter ideological opponents, hasn’t bowed. He called Trump’s bluff on that birther nonsense and the issue has largely gone away, except among those Trump fans who also buy the Obama birther nonsense, and his “tweet” about his wife was “Pic of your wife not from us. Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you’re more of a coward than I thought,” which strikes us as rather gallant, if anybody cares about that stuff anymore. The son of the Chicago Cubs’ owner said it was “a little surreal when Donald Trump threatens your mom,” which is defense enough by the Cubs’ standards, and we can only imagine how the likes of the Iranian mullahs or the latest North Korean nutcase will be cowed by Trump’s insulting “tweets.”
Over on the Democratic side the front-runner, former First Lady etcetera Hillary Clinton was calling for more surveillance, presumably of the some sort that she used to damn George W. Bush for doing, and her still-remaining rival, self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was calling for “international unity,” which we suppose would be a nice thing, assuming everyone was unified on our side. We’re not at all sure what side they will ultimately choose, though, even if we can be assured they won’t be the ones doing the torturing, at least not to the terrorists, so we hope the Republicans and the rest of the country get this one right.
Tuesday’s results were a split decision, but probably don’t reflect any effects of the attack on Brussels. Trump’s big plurality win in the winner-take-all state of Arizona was all about his anti-immigration stance, and probably helped by the left-wing goon squads who tried to shut down his rallies, and Cruz’ landslide majority in Utah was mostly about how Mormons regard such an unscrupulous businessman and unsavory character as Trump. Clinton won Arizona, where her open borders stand plays well with the local Democrats, and Sanders won Utah and Idaho, where such an unscrupulous dealer and unsavory character as Clinton didn’t play well with the handful of Democrats, but the Democratic National Committee probably found another couple hundred of those of “super-delegates” out there and Clinton’s long-promised coronation seems more likely.
We offer our heartfelt condolences to the people of Belgium, and everywhere else from San Bernardino to Moore, Oklahoma, to to Paris to Mumbai that the barbarians have attacked, and wish that America was in better to shape to deal with it.

— Bud Norman