Back to the World

The holidays are officially over, with nothing but St. Valentine’s Day and bitterly cold weather awaiting until Easter and the blessed rebirth of spring, and unless your employer is generous with holiday schedules it’s time to get back to dreary business of daily life. Worse yet, there’s more news to contend with.
Congress won’t be back in session for a few more days, and President Donald Trump will remain bunkered in Mar-a-Lago at least as long, but the stock markets are open and the domestic politics continue and the rest of the world is already making its usual trouble.
The New Years news was interrupted by frightening footage of an assault on the American embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian mobs, and although the American security forces were able to repel the attack with substantial damage to the compound but no loss American lives it’s a another problem start to a new year. Trump is “tweeting” threats to make Iran pay a substantial price, the Iranian dictator is “tweeting” back something that roughly translates to “Oh, yeah? What are you going to do about it, punk?,” and there’s no precedent we know of to predict how such high-level diplomacy might work out.
North Korea’s nutcase dictator Kim Jong Un didn’t deliver a threatened “Christmas surprise,” but according to the latest anonymous leaks and official statements from the intelligence agencies he’s quite unsurprisingly continuing his very expensive military build-up, and he’s had some pretty barbed “twitter” taunts of his own. Trump is back to calling Kim “rocket man,” and that’s another example of this newfangled style of high-level diplomacy we don’t know what to make of.
Trump is surely on the job in his Mar-a-Lago war room, despite the allure of the nearby sunny golf course, and on camera he remains cocksure of stable genius. He seems to find himself in some difficult situations, though, and his cocksureness and stable genius seem to have limited his options.
Trump ran as a tough-on-Iran candidate who had presciently warned against the Iraq War in particular and Middle Eastern entanglements in in general, and the Republican primary electorate and then the Electoral College didn’t seem to notice that the two positions were irreconcilable. The contradictions are more stark now, and if Iran decides to escalate the tensions to a point of limited war with the now-bolstered American troop presence in the Middle East, which they’re crazy enough to do, Trump can either seem weak on Iran or bring America into yet another Middle Eastern entanglement. In either case, we’ll expect Trump to explain he handled it perfectly.
Trump broke with five decades of presidential foreign policy by agreeing to meet directly with the North Korean dictatorship, and came back “tweeting” that the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula was at long last over. He claimed that he and Kim had forged not only a friendship but a love affair, and exchanged the most beautiful letters, and he even talked about doing a real estate deal to build hotels and golf courses on North Korea’s beautiful beaches. Now that they’re clearly having a lover’s spat Trump can either play the abused spouse or admit that his personal diplomacy had failed and deal with a level of brinksmanship that none of his more cautious predecessors ever faced.
All this comes shortly before Congress reconvenes and all the branches and various “deep state” agencies of government are back at work, which means all the impeachment stuff will be back in the news and Trump will be largely preoccupied with that. We hope Trump and the rest of you enjoyed a brief holiday respite from the news, because it starts again today.

— Bud Norman

The Elephant in the Room

In case you haven’t heard, the tragic tale of the Sept. 11 terror attack on America’s embassy in Libya keeps getting worse for Barack Obama.

Numerous news reports had already confirmed that the administration denied repeated requests from the embassy’s embattled staff for more security, that it knew the attack was a carefully planned terror strike even as it spent weeks telling the American public it was a spontaneous reaction to a little-known anti-Muslim video, and that it knew this even as the filmmaker was publicly scapegoated and imprisoned on the flimsiest of legal grounds. Now there is evidence that numerous cries for help were ignored even as the deadly attack occurred.

Worse yet, so far as the president’s reelection campaign is concerned, the story has a compellingly dramatic quality. The reports tell of the two former Navy Seals who defied orders to rush to the aid of the ambassador and his staff, and how they fought bravely and with remarkable ferocity while waiting for the help was that denied somewhere along the chain of the command before finally succumbing to the numerically superior forces. One of those heroes has a father who is bluntly outspoken and utterly believable, who tells of the crude remarks made to him by the vice president, the Secretary of State’s assurance that they would have an obscure filmmaker arrested for exercising his free speech rights as his retribution, and the president’s palpable lack of empathy.

It’s the sort of thing that would make all but the most determinedly partisan reconsider voting for Obama, but then again, maybe they haven’t heard. The Fox Network has done aggressive reporting on the story, the Associated Press has more quietly pursued, a few mainstream publications such as The Christian Science Monitor have also pitched in, and of course the conservative media have been doing their best to draw attention to the matter, but otherwise the press seems determined to ignore the issue as much as possible. None of the Sunday morning news shows but the one on Fox made any mention of the developing, The New York Times’ readers are almost entirely uninformed about what happened in Libya, and the rest of the national media seem to share the same strange lack of curiosity.

The president seems to be counting on the media’s help in ignoring the issue, and has thus far dodged the only question that has penetrated his schedule of interviews with friendly entertainment shows and local reporters. Still, the issue already seems too well known for the president to avoid it’s fallout altogether. Fox News is by far the most-watched news outlet on cable television, the combined audience of the various radio talk shows numbers in the tens of millions, other alternative add many more readers, and the people listening to these various sources tend to talk about politics to their more apolitical friends. Both the Gallup and Rasmussen polling firms show Obama’s approval ratings sliding precipitously since the story broke, and although some of that can surely be attributed to the president’s increasingly angry and insulting campaign the rest is likely a result of the Libyan fiasco.

By ignoring the controversy, and having his media allies do the same, Obama might even be exacerbating the political damage. The story is being told by people who see no reason to give Obama the benefit of any doubt, and if there’s a good explanation for all this it hasn’t been given.

— Bud Norman