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A Two-Front, or More, War for Trump

President Donald Trump spent some of the past weekend lobbing actual missiles at Syrian chemical weapons sites, and the rest lobbing rhetorical missiles at former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey. In both cases, it remains to be seen how effective those attacks will prove.
The actual missiles lobbed into Syria were a justifiable response to a vicious dictatorship’s use of chemical weapons in its brutal prosecution of a civil war that America has reluctantly wound up in, as far as our old-fashioned Republican selves are concerned, and we were pleasantly surprised to note the strikes were carried out in coordination with the militaries of France and England the diplomatic approval of several other important allies. The last time Trump lobbed missiles at Syrian targets he got some rare bipartisan praise and a bump in the polls, but it didn’t deter the latest chemical attack by the Syrian dictatorship, and this time around some of his most vocal supporters are grousing about another one of those neo-con military-industrial complex establishment entanglements, so there’s no telling how it plays out now.
Trump had earlier “tweeted” the complete withdrawal of American forces from the entire Syrian civil war mess, claiming undue credit for the recent near-annihilation of the head-chopping and crucifying Islamist terrorist gang that had declared itself the Islamic State in much of Syria and Iraq, and he didn’t seem to mind that meant leaving the vicious Syrian dictatorship in permanent power to do what illegal atrocities it might. Nor did he he seem to mind that he was also allowing Syria’s equally odious dictator partnerships in Iran and Russia an extraordinary influence in the volatile and still strategically important region.
After the tear-jerking footage of the aftermath of the last chemical attacks were broadcast on all the networks, and the wise old foreign policy hands in London and Paris and Berlin and in Trump’s own administration and the bipartisan press argued that such a cruel violation international law must be met with a forceful response, Trump was “tweeting” a warning to Russia to get ready for a strike by his “shiny, new and smart” missiles. This apparently took the wise old foreign policy hands in London and Paris and the military brass in the Pentagon by surprise, so the next day Trump was “tweeting that the missiles might take a while, and the day after that we hit those Syrian chemical weapons sites. For now Trump has taken the position that America will sustain its diplomatic and economic as well as military influence in the region, but all reports suggest he’s been talked into that by by all those “deep state” and “New World” types, so those erstwhile non-interventionist talk radio hosts might prove more persuasive..
In any case the Syrian dictator is broadcasting images on the state-controlled Syrian media of himself walking calmly into work, visibly unworried by the paper tiger of the west’s ineffectual pinprick missile strikes, and on their state-controlled media neither Russia nor Iran seem at all unfazed, and despite the best efforts of Fox News and his most loyal talk radio allies Trump was unable to do the same.
Instead Trump spent much of the rest of the weekend “tweeting” insults about the FBI director he fired, calling him a liar and a “leaker” and “slime ball,” and otherwise undermine the credibility of Comey’s soon-to-published and already best-selling book. The advance publicity has already revived talk of Russian prostitutes urinating on one another in a Moscow hotel room at Trump’s request, the size of his hands and unusual hue of his skin, possibly impeachable attempts to obstruct justice, and counter charges by Comey that Trump reminded him of the organized crime figures he’d prosecuted earlier in his career, and it wound up hogging up much of the front pages and news hours from the missile strikes in Syria.
Our guess is that neither Trump nor Comey comes out of this battle metaphorically unbloodied. Comey did do some undeniably dumb things during his otherwise distinguished career, especially when he found himself directing the FBI at a time when both major party presidential campaigns were under investigation for some pretty appalling reasons, so the advance copies of the book are already getting some very mixed reviews from bipartisan media. On the other hand, many Americans will probably regard Comey as less a “slime ball” than the failed casino-and-strip bar magnate who’s also currently fending off legal problems with pornographic video performers and Playboy playmates and various women who allege he groped them, not to mention all the creepy recordings from Trump’s appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show and “Access Hollywood” and soft-core Playboy videos and his boasts in his best-selling self-help books.
Even if Trump succeeds in convincing his die-hard fans that Comey’s a a “leaker” and a liar and a “slime ball,” the increasingly scary investigation into the “Russia thing” by special counsel Robert Mueller that resulted from Comey’s firing continue. Despite attempts by Trump and his supporters to impugn the character of the Eagle Scout war hero with a distinguished and blessed by both parties career of public service leading that investigation, Trump’s “tweets” indicate he regards that investigation as a bigger deal than any old Syrian civil war.

— Bud Norman

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Gut Instincts and Complicated Situations

President Donald Trump promised on Monday that within 24 to 48 hours he will announce a “major decision” about the Syrian dictatorship’s recent chemical attack on its own citizens during that country’s long and bloody civil war. “Nothing is off the table,” Trump added, and he promised “It will be met, and met forcefully.”
So for the next 24 to 48 hours, if not much longer than that, one can only speculate what that forceful response will be. He’ll be getting advice from his newly-installed and third national security advisor, a recent Secretary of State, several brass-laden generals, and a United Nations ambassador who’s proved pretty savvy, but they’ll be laying out unsatisfactory options and Trump tends to go with his gut rather than expert advice. Trump’s gut is hard to predict in this case, because it’s a damned complicated situation.
The long and bloody war in Syria is being waged against the second-generation dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, which no decent person likes, but is backed by the military might of the Iranian theocracy, which no decent person likes, as well the mightier military of the Russian dictatorship, which even Trump is lately having second thoughts about. On the other hand, one of the various factions waging war against Assad is the Islamic State, the head-chopping and crucifying bunch that has supplanted al-Qaeda as the world’s most deranged Islamist terror gang, and no decent person likes them. There are other factions, too, including those plucky Iraqi Kurds who have sustained the sort of democracy that President George W. Bush envisioned when he launched the second Iraq War. You’ll even find some factions who purport to be fighting for something like modernity, although they seem to have the lesser hand.
You’ll also find a few thousand American troops in the mix, and they find themselves in an especially damned complicated situation. They were first sent there by President Barack Obama, whose incoherent foreign policy had once dismissed the Islamic State as the “JV team” of Islamist terrorism and praised Assad as a “reformer,” then went to a limited war against both, and they’re still there in the Trump administration’s incoherent foreign policy, which had boasted that it will soon pull all American troops out of the theater after their great victory over the Islamic State but is now promising a forceful response to the Assad dictatorship’s outrageous chemical attack on its own people. In both administrations American troops have clashed with both Assad and Islamic State forces, and it’s always been clear who they’ve been against, but never quite clear who they were for.
Even the simplest wars are complicated enough, but in this case all the political implications will be mind-boggling for Trump’s gut. He ran for president on the promise to be even more isolationist than Obama, and went far further in criticizing the Bush-eras of Republican foreign policy, but he also derided all of his presidential predecessors as a bunch of wimps who’d gone easy on Islamist terrorists and the Syrians and Iranians, even as he gave the Russians a pass, so it’s hard to say what his gut tells him now.
One of Obama’s most conspicuous and poll-damaging foreign policy fiascos was declaring a “red line” against Assad’s use of chemical weapons and then failing to back it up after the Assad regime gassed its own people for a second generation, and Trump got bipartisan praise and a bump in the polls after he responded to another chemical attack with a relatively harmless cruise missile strike on Syrian airbase. That didn’t deter Assad and his allies from the most recent attack, though, not after Trump announced he would soon be pulling all American forces from the theater, and another missile strike might not have the same political effect.
Trump might choose to wage a more aggressive war against the Assad regime, then take all their oil, as he’s talked about, which would be as tough as he’s always promised to be, but it would also break his promises about being even less Bush-ian than Obama, and more recent promises about pulling all forces out of Syria. Waging a more aggressive war against the Assad regime entails a more aggressive war against the Iranians and Russians, and despite Trump’s tough talk his gut doesn’t seem to have the stomach for that. As for taking their oil, Syria actually doesn’t have much of it, and it would be a violation of the same Geneva Convention as Assad’s gas attack.
Diplomatic pressure could bring the world’s dislike of both the Assad dictatorship and it’s allies and what’s left of the Islamic State to inflict greater economic damage, but Trump also ran against international coalitions, and is lately threatening hardball negotiations with all our trading powers, so even that surprisingly strong UN ambassador is going to have a problem pulling that off.
Trump is rightly if pettily noting that all of his presidential predecessors failed to avert the damned complicated situation he finds himself in, and we have to admit it is a damned complicated situation. None of the available responses seem satisfactory, even if you leave Trump’s naked political self-interest out of the equation.
Any country’s chemical attack on its enemies, especially its people, is an affront to international law and human decency that cannot go unchallenged. Lobbing a few missiles at an empty air base won’t do much, though, and a war to effect regime change will entail all the things Trump criticized about the Bush years. That Obama-like promise to pull all American forces out is already proving problematic. All of which is further complicated, of course, by the ever expanding “Russia thing” here at home, which has lately required a harder administration stand against Russia.
The only thing we’ll bet on is that our erstwhile Kurdish and putatively pro-modernity allies will wind up losing, and that the outcome won’t be happy for anyone involved. Still, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Normalizing Dictatorships

A communist dictatorship seized power in Cuba the year of our birth, and has been nothing but trouble to the world ever since. The dictatorship pointed nuclear weapons at the United States which almost triggered an apocalyptic war, fomented similarly dictatorial revolutions throughout Latin America and Africa, emptied its prisons onto American shores, and even after the demise of its Soviet patron has continued to abet the mischief of its fellow pariah states and imprison its own population in a totalitarian gulag. Now we read that America will normalize diplomatic relations with this cruel government, and can only wonder that it has taken so long.
The left hasn’t had much enthusiasm for opposing any sort of communism at least since George McGovern won the Democratic nomination, after all, and has always had a special sympathy for the Cuban variety. Countless documentaries and feature films, pamphlets, symposia, and the breathless testimonials of too many hipsters in Che Guevara t-shirts have portrayed Cuba as a tropical workers’ paradise where rhythmic and revolutionary cumbias fill the air and high-quality free health care is available to all. We never heard of anybody tying a bunch of inner tubes together and trying to get to Cuba, while hundreds of thousands have resorted to such desperate measures in order to get out, but the myth persists. Normalizing diplomatic relations with the communist dictatorship will prolong its power, but the left no longer sees this as a problem.
In his last campaign debate the president chortled to his opponent that the Cold War was long over, clearly amused that such confrontational thinking still happened, and indeed that epic conflict was so long ago that the collective memory has faded and only the liberal myths prevail. It was so long ago that the current president was smoking that high-quality Hawaiian pot with the “Choom Gang” when the west was winning the conflict, and went on to tell an adoring crowd of Germans at the former site of the Berlin Wall that it was because the world stood as one, and the former long-haired hippie who testified to Congress that it was futile for American to resist communism is now the Secretary of State, and the idea that communism wasn’t really so bad after all is now a fixture of the campus curriculum. The hammer and sickle never achieved the same intolerable status as the swastika, even if it represented the same brutal totalitarianism, and the likes of the mass-murdering Che Guevara became fashionable attire.
By now the decision to open an embassy in Havana will probably be of little political consequence. The left will be pleased with their president’s daring, the Americans of Cuban heritage will be mostly outraged but of few numbers, maybe not even enough to swing to Florida’s electoral votes back to the Republicans, and the old-timers such as ourselves who proudly recall a time when America was the reason communism’s evil didn’t prevail probably would have voted Republican in any case. The Cold War is long over except for those unfortunate folks in Ukraine and Cuba and the South China Sea who are dealing with its unpleasant aftermath, the threat of a nuclear conflagration has been downgraded to the possibility that Iran or North Korea or another of Cuba’s allies will someday launch one, and the left is already looking for rationalizations if that ever happens.

— Bud Norman

More Morsi, More Problems

Possibly the least surprising development in the news lately has been Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s self-awarded promotion to dictator.
Morsi insists he’s not a dictator, as dictators always do, but with his recent decree that he can impose any law of his choosing on his people without any judicial constraint he meets any definition of the term. The decree has not been universally popular in Egypt, of course, with the more independent-minded judges voicing their disapproval in strongly worded letters, businessmen signaling their concerns with a disastrous drop in what’s left of the national economy, and the more recalcitrant citizens expressing their disdain with the traditional Egyptian rioting in Tahrir Square. None of it is likely to matter, though, as strongly worded letters have little effect on dictators, like all Islamists he cares just as little about economics, and his backers in the powerful Muslim Brotherhood will soon be sending a sufficient number of pro-dictatorship rioters to win the inevitable street brawls.
All of which was completely predictable. Morsi is a product of the Muslim Brotherhood, after all, and that organization has never made a secret that it prefers a religious dictatorship based on Islamic law to democracy. That Morsi and his allies would seek absolute power was not only predictable, it was widely predicted by numerous pundits and publications including this one.
It is alarming, therefore, that so many smart and powerful people failed to see it coming. The elite media all celebrated the demonstrations that unseated the unsavory but generally friendly dictator Hosni Mubarak and brought Morsi to power as an “Arab Spring” of democracy and modernity, even as one of their correspondents was being gang-raped by the mob of alleged democrats and modernists. Credentialed experts with the ear of the president assured that the Muslim Brotherhood were really a very reasonable bunch with democratic instincts, even though its motto states that “Allah is our objective, the Koran is our law, the Prophet is our leader, Jihad is our way, and death for the sake of All is the highest of our aspirations.” Apparently susceptible to such bad advice, President Obama called for Mubarak’s resignation despite warning that the Muslim Brotherhood would assume his power and more recently bolstered Morsi’s standing in the Islamic world by hailing his role in brokering a temporary and tactical cease-fire in Hamas’ terror war against Israel.
Which is not to say that anybody in America could have sustained Mubarak’s unpopular reign forever, or prevented the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascendancy, but surely it would not have been too much to ask that they not ushered things along. Propping up Mubarak long enough to have helped Egypt’s pro-democracy forces might have worked, and even if it didn’t the Islamists wouldn’t enjoy the legitimacy of western support.
An Islamist Egypt is going to be an ongoing problem not only for the brutalized citizens of that unfortunate country but also for the rest of the world.

— Bud Norman