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A Sunny and Relatively Mild Weekend in the Ongoing “Russia Thing”

Except for Tiger Woods’ surprisingly near miss at the British Open and a scary hostage situation at a Trader John’s store in Los Angeles there wasn’t a lot of distracting news over the weekend, which left plenty of room in the news cycle for more talking head talk about the ongoing fall-out from President Donald Trump’s most recent foreign tour and the latest developments in the “Russia thing.”
One of our brothers is in town and the weather’s been as nice as one can hope for around here, so we might not have noticed if we hadn’t stopped by Kirby’s Beer Store for a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons on Sunday afternoon. A lawyer friend of ours, the only regular at the notorious northeast dive with a juris doctorate, was staring at his “smartphone” and chuckling gleefully as he read the written argument that the Federal Bureau of Investigation made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to obtain various warrants to investigate a  fellow named Carter Page way back when he was a little-known Trump campaign official in final days of the race against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton.
The document was mostly black lines of predictably redacted paragraphs, and our friend is a professional Democrat who owes his current low-level judicial position to his party’s meager number of appointments, but we’ve long known him to be one of the good guys and his arguments that that the un-redacted disproved Trump’s apologists proved convincing.
If you’re been obsessively following the whole convoluted “Russia thing” from either of the two available prospectives, you by now know that the FBI first got involved in the affair when it obtained those FISA court warrants, and that the Trump-ian perspective is that it was a worse-than-Watergate attempt to spy on the Trump campaign to benefit of “Crooked” Hillary’s effort, based only a discredited dossier by a foreign intelligence agent with Russian ties and paid for by “Crook” Hillary’s effort, along with a “fake news” article in some obscure internet site, along with other “deep state” shenanigans, but that’s all the harder to explain after the FBI made the highly unusual step on Saturday of publicly releasing even a heavily-redacted FISA warrant application.
As our Democratic friend undeniably points out, the document notes that the disputed dossier was produced by an English intelligence officer who had long proved a reliable source in many counter-intelligence operations, and frankly acknowledges the partisan funding of the document that talk radio had long insisted they concealed, which is more bi-partisan than talk radio wants to admit, and clearly hints that all the redacted parts probably reveal how the FBI had reason to suspect Page was an unregistered Russian agent even before he became one of candidate Trump’s top foreign policy advisors.
All the rest of it looks bad for Trump from our third perspective here on the political sidelines. That supposedly discredited dossier alleged the Russians were waging a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election on behalf of Trump, and by now that’s the consensus conclusion of Trump’s very own top intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees, and all the big social media companies and most of the country’s secretaries of state have confirmed two of those prongs with sworn testimony before congressional committees. The dossier also included some salacious and still-unsubstantiated about Russian prostitutes and rather unusual sexual fetishes, but given all the news about pay-offs to a Playboy playmate and and a porn star and the rest our president’s much-bragged about sexual adventuresome nothing seems unthinkable, and the warrants were renewed by Republican appointees to the Republican-created-and-renewed FISA courts during both Democratic and Republican administrations..
Not to mention all the fallout from that foreign trip when Trump was conspicuously friendlier to Russian than he was to America’s traditional allies and his own top national intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees.
None of this convicts Trump of any impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, of course, but we think our Democratic friend is justified in exulting that it all means the “Russia thing” investigation will continue on its ominous course.

— Bud Norman

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The Washington Post and the Rest of the Post-American World

These are dark times for such war-mongering neoconservative globalists as ourselves, as all our crazy notions about America being obligated by whatever’s left of its global economic and military and moral superiority to play a leadership role in maintaining some semblance of international order are clearly out of fashion. By now such an established institution as The Washington Post is convincingly arguing that the presumptive Republican nominee is running to the peacenik-left of the presumptive Democratic nominee, and giving him a strange new respect for it.
The presumptive Republican nominee loves to assail the press in general and The Washington Post in particular, as does every Republican politician, and he’ll no doubt have plenty of perfectly reasonable reasons to do so over the course of the campaign, as does every Republican politician, but even such a thin-skinned sort as Donald J. Trump would be hard-pressed to find any fault with a remarkable recent opinion piece by Post stalwart Marc A. Theissen. The author obligingly provided some heartening quotes from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s recent big foreign policy speech about how “If America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum,” but he seemed to do so with appropriate sarcasm, and how she promised to “go toe-to-toe” with Russian strongman leader Vladimir Putin, but he added the necessary point that she was the one who offered the ridiculous “re-set” button that emboldened all of Putin’s revanchist ambitions, and how she emphasized the need to “stick with our allies,” but he also noted that she was also in on the sell-out of Poland and the Czech Republic over a previously-agreed-upon missile defense deal, and how “we should listen to the generals,” but he rightly noted that she was also in on the disastrous pull-out from Iraq that all the generals warned against. He noted her all-too-plausible argument that Trump is “temperamentally unfit” to be Commander in Chief, but we couldn’t help sensing a certain amount of appropriate sarcasm there about her own questionable temperamental fitness, and when he quoted her all-too-plausible argument about Trump’s “affection for tyrants” he rightly noted that Clinton once described the tyrannical Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer” and the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak as a “friend of the family.”
The essay also quotes Trump saying that “I’m the one who didn’t want to go into Iraq, folks, and she’s the one who stupidly raised her hand to go into Iraq and destabilize the entire Middle East,” and the characteristically un-parsable “Her decision to go into — and this was her baby, Libya — was a disaster,” and politely adds without any question that Trump has boasted of his opposition to both of those ill-fated wars. Since the reliably left-wing Washington Post suddenly won’t bother to fact-check these claims by the presumptive Republican nominee, it’s left to such right-bastards as ourselves to note that both boasts are typical of the lies that he routinely tells. While all the other shallow B-list celebrities from the Dixie Chicks to the Kardashians to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama were loudly stating their widely-quoted opposition to the Iraq War, Trump’s only public utterance on the matter came on Howard Stern’s shock-jock radio show, presumably in between the usual talk about nude lesbian strippers, and on that august occasion he was clearly if reluctantly in favor of it, with his reluctance apparently stemming from a regret that he hadn’t been in charge of the first Iraq War and made that turn out more wonderfully. As for the Libyan debacle, you and your lying eyes and ears can still watch and listen to Trump on YouTube prior to the war urging that we topple the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who was undeniably an awful dictator but had largely been neutralized as a threat to national security after he gave up his weapons of mass destruction as a result of that second Iraq War that Trump now lies about having been against along.
It’s admittedly a matter of opinion rather than fact, but in the highly unlikely case we were ever stalwarts at The Washington Post we would have also argued that Trump’s implied assertion that prior to the Iraq War the Middle East was in any meaningful sense “stable” suggests he wasn’t paying much attention at the time, and that there’s nothing in Trump’s casino-and-strip-joint or scant foreign policy career to suggest that the Libyan War he so ardently urged on YouTube would have turned out any better under his guidance. Although we’ve been loathing and criticizing and ridiculing Clinton since long before those good old days when the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee was saying what a great Secretary of State she would be and inviting her to his third wedding and contributing to her phony-baloney influence-peddling “family foundation,” we’d also be obliged that to agree that her opponent is indeed temperamentally unfit to Commander in Chief and does indeed have an affinity for tyrants, and that Mubarak was at least better than the Muslim Brotherhood crazy that her administration eventually helped install, and that it wasn’t her vote for the Iraq War but rather her early retreat from the cause that make us loathe her, and that the presumptive Republican nominee is the one now insisting on the absurd calumny that “Bush lied, people died.” This sorry state of affairs might please one of the stalwarts at The Washington Post, but it portends dark times to such war-mongering neoconservative globalists such as ourselves.
In truth we have no affinity for war, there’s nothing the least bit “neo” about our Burkean and Old Testament and life-long conservatism, and although we’re rooting for the whole planet to do well we’ve long believed that America’s former idealistic exceptionalism would best shine the light to that long-sought path toward peace and prosperity. As we’ve said many times, our reading of history suggests that when there is no Pax Hellenica or Pax Romana or Pax Brittanica or Pax Americana there is no pax at all, and for now such crazy notions are clearly out of fashion in both parties and on the pages of such established institutions as The Washington Post. The presumptive Democratic nominee is lucky to be at long last rid of a self-described socialist challenger who was undeniably pristine on his anti-Iraq War views, she’s now running against a presumptive Republican nominee who goes even further than any of them with his absurd “Bush lied, people died” calumny, neither have any idea how to maintain America’s economic primacy and both are promising to maintain America’s military superiority on the cheap, and neither are capable of expressing any belief in America’s exceptionalism, and neither provide any convincing case for it. That stalwart at The Washington Post seems to hope the self-described socialist Sanders’ fans will be drawn to Trump, and to worry that some war-mongering neoconservative globalist Republicans such as ourselves will be swayed that Clinton at least hasn’t suggested starting a nuclear arms race in east Asia and breaking up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance and re-negotiating all the economic arrangements that have  also been the lynchpin of the semblance of international order in the relatively peaceful and prosperous post World War II-era, but a shrewd old friend of ours at a local hipster dive says that foreign policy questions rarely affect a presidential election, and he’s probably more right about that than the stalwarts at The Washington Post. So at this point we have no idea how it will turn out.
In these dark times our best advice to the rest of the world, which we are rooting for even in our most patriotic and nationalist fervor, is to prepare for the next phase of the post-Pax Americana planet. An America reduced to choosing between this go-round’s godawful choices of presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees will surely leave the rest of the world on its own, for better for worse.

— Bud Norman

For the Defense

China is beefing up its military and bullying its neighbors, the apocalyptic suicide cult running Iran is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons with an arms race in the always-volatile Middle East bound to follow, Russia has been gradually re-establishing its Soviet empire while extending its insidious influence even farther, and in every corner of the world there is still the usual portion of crazy people with guns. This seems an odd moment for a peace dividend, but the administration is proposing drastic military budget cuts.
There are good geo-political reasons for the proposal unveiled Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, we are told, but none seem convincing. The leaner budget will provide a meaner military by eliminating outdated Cold War weapons systems and emphasizing high-tech cyber-warfare over the old-fashioned armed servicemen shooting at the enemy approach to conflicts, according to the Defense Department’s argument, but we can’t help thinking that the aircraft designed to take out Soviet tanks will do just as well against any other country’s armor and that there are likely to be occasions when shooting an enemy will be more effective than disabling his lap-top computer and cutting off his Twitter account. Hagel’s proposal would reduce the number of troops to the lowest level since 1940, a date that has some resonance for the few Americans who still have some rudimentary knowledge of 20th Century history, and includes reductions in military benefits that would make service even less appealing for those who would remain on the watch. If you don’t buy that, there’s a backup argument that the proposed budget out-spends the sequester agreement those dovish Republicans imposed on the hawkish administration, but this ignores the well-documented fact that the sequester was the administration’s idea and that the Republicans would gladly agree to any deal that would beef up the military with money taken from elsewhere in the vast federal budget.
To believe that one have to believe that the Republicans have suddenly become the weak-on-defense party and is forcing pacifism on an administration eager to pursue a robust foreign policy backed up by a credible threat of force. The argument requires such an extraordinary feat of imagination that the press has already decided to go with the argument that a pre-World War II defense posture is the post-modern solution to national security at a time when seventh century theocracies have nearly arrived in the nuclear age. This is also a tough sell, of course, but given the public’s lack of interest in national security and its enthusiasm for the welfare benefits that will be spared by corresponding cuts in the military it might just work.
At least the public is wised up enough that no seems to be peddling the true rationale for the cuts. The smaller military fits nicely with the smaller role that the administration intends for America to play in the world’s affairs, but even the president no longer seems willing to convince anyone that this will bring peace. A belief in “soft power” and the president’s magical ability to charm dictatorial nations into peaceful co-existence with the democracies still informs every aspect of America’s foreign policy, but they no longer expect anyone else to believe it. The administration clearly believes that money from current and future generations of taxpayers is better spent on Obamaphones and advertisements touting the benefits of Obamacare than on national defense, but it is a hopeful sign that they have to get that message out to the grateful constituencies without being too noisy about it.
The Republicans, who we can hope are still hawkish as ever, might even be able to exploit that reticence to pass a more responsible budget and even force the president to sign it. Such a rare feat wouldn’t force the administration to pursue a more forcible foreign policy, but at least it would leave sufficient force for future administrations to do so.

— Bud Norman