The Politics of War

The rising tensions and threats of war between America and Iran might or might not prove a brilliant geopolitical masterstroke by President Donald Trump, and only time will tell, but for now they don’t seem likely to help him with his various domestic political problems.
During another of the decades-long and all-too-frequent tense situations in Iranian-American politics, way back in the administration of President Barack Obama, citizen Trump confidently predicted Obama would start a war with Iran as the only way to reelection, and although Obama didn’t start a war and was reelected anyway Trump apparently maintains a belief that wars make a president more popular. There’s been nothing in recent history to back up this theory, and much to refute it, but Trump clearly isn’t a student of history, and we believe that despite his keen political instincts he misreads this moment in time.
Based entirely on anecdotal evidence, as there’s no reliable polling yet available, we don’t sense any public clamoring for a war with Iran, or anything that might provoke it. All of the Democratic party and their mainstream media allies are against it, as are such usually reliable Republican allies as Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and even the die-hard fans who believed Trump’s pie-in-the-sky campaign promises to extricate America from Middle Eastern entanglements are probably wondering what the hell as he orders troop build-ups in the region.
Iran is still the bad guy in this scenario, as far as we’re concerned, but so far Trump is not playing the good guy role well. Trump based his decision to start the current contretemps by killing Iranian hero Gen. Qasem Soleimani on intelligence agency reports that he was planning “imminent” threats against Americans, but he’d previously disparaged America’s intelligence agencies as hopelessly inept and corrupt, and his spokespeople have since equivocated about how “imminent” the threats were. Trump’s spokespeople have denied that Trump threatened to bomb non-military Iranian cultural sites, an indisputable war crime that he undeniably did threaten, and he’s since backed way from that.
There’s also some confusion about a letter from the Pentagon saying America will honor Iraq’s non-binding resolution asking us to exit the country, with Trump insisting he won’t pull out our troops unless Iraq pays us the for military bases we built there during what Trump has said was an unjustified invasion and occupation by a previous Republican president. At this point Iraq isn’t the only erstwhile American ally to question Trump’s policies, and only the true believers are backing him on the home front.
Whether there’s a war with Iran or not, there will be an impeachment trial for Trump in the coming weeks, and although he’s likely to be acquitted most of the country won’t believe he’s innocent of the charges brought against him. Neither war nor peace with Iran will change that.

— Bud Norman

A Nervous Situation in the Middle East

Let us make clear from the outset that we believe the nutcase theocrats running the Iranian dictatorships are, as always, the bad guys in their relations with the United States. Let us stipulate further that President Donald Trump might or might not have been justified in ordering a military strike that killed top-ranking Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who was undeniably one of the worst people in the Middle East, and that only time and further revelations will tell.
Having said so, we admit it makes us very nervous that Trump is calling the shots for America in its latest spat with Iran. The Iranians have vowed vengeance for the death of Soleimani, Trump has vowed retaliation for anything they might do against American interests, and it’s going to take some complex strategic thinking and expert diplomacy and a cautious hand to avoid either a disastrous war or an embarrassing American retreat. but nothing Trump has ever said or done in his life suggests he is up to that task.
Trump explains that he ordered the killing of Soleimani because of intelligence reports about imminent threats to American lives, which we’d ordinarily be inclined to believe, but Trump has spent the past many years telling the world that America’s intelligence agencies can’t be trusted. He blames them and President George W. Bush for the second Iraq War, takes Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word for it they are wrong about Russia’s meddling in the past and upcoming presidential elections, and passes along conspiracy theories that the “deep state” spooks were out to get him even before he became president. Which makes it hard for him to sell a provocative military strike to a domestic or global audience on the basis of a America’s intelligence agencies’ reports.
At times like these it’s good to have friends around the globe, but if he somehow stumbles into a full-blown war with Iran Trump and America will probably have to go it alone. Trump’s trade wars and “twitter” taunts and all-around ugly Americanism have alienated our longtime allies in Europe and Asia and Africa and Australia, done little to help economic or diplomatic relations with our adversaries, and even provided the very bad guys of Iran with a plausible case in the court of global opinion that they’re the aggrieved party.
The whole mess arguably started when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the treaty America and six crucial European allies struck with Iran to curtail its nuclear weapons program. The deal that President Barack Obama and the Euro-weenies negotiated was weaker than what Trump and we had hoped for, but it did forestall the Iranian nuclear threat for another decade or so, in which time anything might happen, and according to all the intelligence agencies Iran was in compliance. Trump brusquely dismissed the intelligence agencies’ conclusions and withdrew anyway, keeping a campaign promise to undue Obama’s folly. The other six allies did their best to ensure that Iran would at least keep up its sworn obligations, Trump didn’t get the great deal for America he expected Iran would come begging for, and now Iran has announced it will resume its nuclear weapons program, and the Iraqi government has passed a non-binding request that we leave their country..
These threats of apocalyptic Middle Eastern war have come and gone over the course of our lifetime, and although some of them have turned out tragically we always had a comforting sense that steady hands were guiding the ship of state through the storm. This time around, we’re more uneasy.
Trump fans love his blunt-spoken style, so we’ll come right out and say that he strikes us as an uninformed, impulsive, shallow, and utterly self-interested reality show star who finds himself facing an impeachment and is willing to do anything to once again avert a looming ad well-deserved disaster. He’s threatening to destroy Iranian cultural sites in violation of international law, telling Congress that his blustering “tweets” are all they need in the way of constitutional niceties, and doing nothing to expand his coalition of MAGA-capped rally-goers. All the four-star general and admirals and and wise old men of the foreign policy establishment have been banished from his administration, he mostly relies on his son-in-law and Mar-a-Lago friends and the instincts of his uneducated gut, and so far that hasn’t worked out well. Back in Obama’s day there was another dust-up with Iran, and Trump confidently predicted that Obama would start a war because it was the only way he could win reelection, which proved doubly wrong, as Obama didn’t start a war and won reelection anyway. If anyone is cynical enough to suggest that Trump is now acting for his political interests rather than the nation’s, Trump can hardly call it treason.
We’ll hope for the best, but none of the damn Democrats seem any better, so we’ll remain nervous.

— Bud Norman

The Competing Conspiracy Theories in the News

There are two very consequential conspiracy theories in the news these days, and being longtime conspiracy buffs we’ve been following both closely. One theory golds that the Russian hacked Democratic e-mails and spread disinformation through American social media and attempted to infiltrate America’s vote-counting computers in an effort to elect Donald Trump as president, and and that Trump’s campaign cooperated with the effort. The other theory, long popular on all sorts of conservative media and now fully embraced by the “tweets” of Trump himself, holds that the previous conspiracy theories is the product of a “deep state” coup d’tat against a duly elected president who’s just trying to make America great again.
Based on our everything we’ve read and our general understanding of how the world works, we’re inclined to believe the former theory than the latter.
The theory that the Russians meddled in the past election on Trump’s behalf has been endorsed by the heads of all of America’s intelligence agencies, including the ones appointed by Trump himself, and although Trump has publicly stated he’s more inclined to believe his good buddy andRussian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assurance that it never happened we better trust the American experts. All the e-mails that were somehow hacked during the election proved embarrassing to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, all of the big social media head honchos have testified to Congress that the Russkies did use their platforms to spread anti-Clinton disinformation, and Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security has advised many of the states that the Russians had attempted to breach their voting computers.
Meanwhile, a duly appointed special counsel investigation has racked up guilty pleas from Trump’s longtime lawyer and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy chief and Trump administration national security advisor, as well numerous convictions against a former campaign chairman, for lying about their contacts with Russian officials, and promising investigations are seemingly underway about Trump’s namesake son and son-in-law on the same suspected charges. There are damning e-mail chains that Trump Jr. has released, sworn congressional testimony by the heads of America’s intelligence agencies ad social media big-wigs, various guilty pleas accepted by duly constituted American courts of law, lots of intriguing search warrants and indictments also issued by duly constituted American courts of law. Throw in Trump’s continued friendliness toward the Russian dictator, and it looks bad to us.
On our daily drives around town, however, all the talk radio hosts assure us that it’s all “fake news.” The real story, we’re told, is that the damned Democrats and their feckless Republican allies in the hated establishment have concocted all these ostensible facts in prevent Trump from making America great again. The real collusion, they argue, was between Clinton and those nefarious yet somehow friendly Russians. While Clinton was Secretary of State the United States allowed a fifth of its uranium supplies to be sold to the Russians, and although nine separate agencies signed off on the deal Clinton is considered a Russian collaborator
Although it was a wealthy Republican who didn’t want Trump to be his party’s standard-bearer who first employed an ex-British intelligence officer named Christoper Steele to ask his former Russian contacts about Trump’s business dealings with Russia, the Clinton campaign later made payments to the effort, so Clinton is therefore guilty of colluding with Russians to get dirt on an opponent. The “Steele dossier” — or the “dirty dossier” or “dodgy dossier” or “discredited dossier,” as it’s known on conservative talk radio — reported the investigator’s “raw data” had informed him that the Russias were launching on a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election through hacked e-mails and disinformation through social media and attempts to take over America’s vote-counting computers, all of which has since been confirmed to Trump’s own appointed intelligence chiefs, The dossier also had salacious details about Trump paying some Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed once slept on by President Barack in a fancy Moscow hotel room, and although nobody has verified that neither has anybody definitively discredited anything about the Steele dossier.
The Steele dossier was part of the evidence submitted to the top-secret United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to start all the “Russia thing” investigations, and that’s proof enough for the talk radio hosts that that it was a “witch hunt” from the beginning. Since then, we’re told, the establishment has been out to get Trump and prevent him from fulfilling his destiny of making America.
Which sounds weird to our aging ears, as we’re old enough to remember when the it was the hippies and the Democrats and the rest of the left-wing nutcases were blaming every human failing on the establishment. These days it’s the right-wig nutcases who are donning the cloak and righteous victimhood at the rough hands of the hated establishment, ill-fitting as it always is, and we hate to see that the President of the United States is among them.
On Monday Trump “re-tweeted” one of the Fox and Friends hots that “This was a illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States,” and added “True!” After that he played his third round of golf in as many days, then “tweeted” that former high-ranking Federal Bureau of Investigation officials Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act and got caught. There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who ad just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!” Which strikes us an extraordinary broadside against the establishment by a duly elected President of the United States.
If Rosenstein truly is guilty of “illegal and treasonous acts,” as Trump has “tweeted,” we wonder why Trump still retains him as his duly appointed Deputy Attorney General. Rosenstein was recommended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and you can sarcastically consider him “another beauty” if you want, but we note that Sessions was also appointed to his post by Trump, who brags that he only hires the “best people.”
We’ll also note that the Steele dossier didn’t become public until after Trump’s election, which seems an odd tactic for such an undeniably diabolical woman as Clinton, and that we can’t see any reason she’d collude with what everyone other than Trump and his most die-hard defenders agree was a Russian plot to get Trump elected.
Perhaps Trump is the victim of a vast conspiracy, but at this point it’s so vast it includes not only the damned Democrats and the varied “fake news” media but also America’s duly constituted courts of law and a small but significant slice of the Republican party and its leadership, and all of Trump’s appointed intelligence chiefs and his Deputy Attorney General, as well as such disinterested sideline observers as ourselves. One can never tell how these conspiracy theories play out, and they don’t usually amount to much, ┬ábut for now one side seems to have a lot of evidence and the other side has a lot of explaining to do.

–Bud Norman

Trump Jumps the Shark

The folks who provide entertainment programming for television often use the expression “jump the shark,” which derives from the episode late in the last season of “Happy Days” when Fonzie ski-jumped over a tank of sharks, and it’s meant to convey when a show has run out of ideas and become completely ridiculous. On Thursday President Donald Trump’s long-running yet low-rated reality show arrived at its “jump the shark” moment.
On Tuesday Trump’s own heads of his own administration’s intelligence agencies testified under oath and camera before Congress about various national security issues, and differed with the president on matters ranging from Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs to China’s and Russia’s cyber-terrorism intentions to the remaining strength of the Islamic State to the need for a big beautiful wall along the entirety of the southern border. On Wednesday Trump “tweeted” that the men and women he had appointed to assure America’s safety were “passive and naive” and “wrong” and “should go back to school,” which was embarrassing enough. By Thursday Trump was telling an impromptu news conference that it was all “fake news,” as his chiefs had all assured him they were merely misquoted and were in fact entirely in agreement with him, and at that point President Fonzie looked likely to crash into the sharks.
Go right ahead and believe that the undeniably hostile-to-Trump news media overemphasized the intelligence agencies’ many disagreements with Trump, but if you think the Trump appointees were misquoted or taken out of context you can easily watch their full testimony from Congress’ own C-Span or any of the networks that covered it live, including Fox News. You can also read the intelligence agencies’ 42-page “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report at their own official “.gov” website, or request a copy from the Government Printing Office. It might all be a “deep state” conspiracy that created all the networks’ video footage with computer generated imagery, and then hacked into the government’s web domain and printing warehouses to plant that phony document, and is now coercing Trump’s appointees not to confirm his latest claims that their testimony was “fake news,” but if so the conspirators are so damned good that resistance is certainly futile.
Trump also told the “fake news” cameras that his border wall is currently being built, claimed credit for the portion build years before his administration near San Diego, and predicted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would soon be humbly begging him to build a wall, and boasted of such successes that no one will care if he doesn’t get a wall built. The die-hard fans will buy all of it, but most of the rest of the country seems to be growing weary of the storyline.
For now all the hostile-to-Trump news media and all the late night comedy shows are having great fun with it, and we’re eager to hear what all the right-wing talk radio talkers and the rest of the obsequious-to-Trump news media have to say. On several occasions over the past many years Trump has asked his die-hard supporters to believe him rather than their lying eyes, and they’ve always been willing to do so, but this time the more reluctant supporters aren’t playing along.
Not only are Trump’s own appointees to head the national intelligence agencies stubbornly insisting on their clear-eyed assessments of the actual facts rather than Trump’s “alternative facts,” but so are several other members of his foreign policy-making team, as well as a decisive number of congressional Republicans. Trump boasted that he had wiped out the Islamic State when he announced a controversial decision to withdraw all American forces from Syria, but his Secretary of State and national security advisor seem to have talked him into to only a partial withdrawal, his intelligence agencies continue to warn that the Islamic State still poses a threat to America and its allies, and on Thursday Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and a majority of his Republican caucus joined in a 68-to-23 vote for a resolution rebuking Trump’s claims and announced policy on Syria.
A similar number of Senate Republicans have voted to protect a special counsel investigation into Russia’s cyber-meddling in America’s elections, which the intelligence agencies all agree is ongoing, despite Trump’s assurances that he’s been assured by the Russian dictator that it’s all a “witch hunt.” There seems a be a similar skepticism in the Senate about Trump’s boasts that he’s eliminated the nuclear threat from North Korea, or soon will, which the intelligence agencies also dispute. Based on the latest reports about the congressional negotiations underway to pass some sort of funding agreement to keep the government open for a while longer, the Republicans seem to agree with the intelligence agencies that big beautiful border wall isn’t such an urgent need as Trump insists.
The president probably has a more loyal following among the Republicans in the House of Representatives, but they’re a minority in that chamber, and Trump’s version of the truth is currently running into a great deal of resistance from his own party and own administration and the rest of the government. Worse yet, his reality show is jumping into the shark tank of actual reality.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting Instead of Golfing

President Donald Trump didn’t play his usual round of golf at his wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort during his usual federally-funded weekend visit there, ostensibly out of respect for those mourning the deaths of 17 students at a nearby high school in yet another American mass shooting. Instead he spent much of the weekend sending out ten “tweets” on various subjects in the news, but we figure his time would have been better spent on the golf course.
The “tweet” that got the most attention was the one blaming the mass shooting tragedy on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which Trump alleges was too preoccupied with that phony-baloney “Russia thing” to pay much attention to a kid in south Florida that pretty much everyone down there knew was likely to shoot up his former high school. By all accounts the the very screwed-up kid in question was quite predictably a mass school murderer, as concerned neighbors and Facebook friends and school officials had repeatedly warned both the FBI and local law enforcement officials, and both the FBI and the local law enforcement officials now freely admit that they pretty much screwed the pooch in this deadly case.
Blaming it all on the phony-baloney “Russia thing,” though, smacks of presidential desperation. The FBI has some 35,000 employees and only a relative and specifically-qualified few of them are involved in the “Russia thing,” none of whom were diverted from taking the calls from the neighbors concerned about that next mass school shooter, and we doubt that any of the local law enforcement officials who got the same concerned calls were at all distracted by the “Russia thing.” This all comes after a week when the president’s own appointees to the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the national intelligence agencies testified before congress that yeah, Russia meddled in the last in the last election to Trump’s benefit and is is eager to do so again. The kids at the south Florida high school who saw 17 of their classmates gunned down by a a screwed-up former classmate aren’t buying it, and we guess that neither will the public at large.
Although we still defend the constitutional right to bear arms, no matter how tricky that seems at the moment, we have to admit that the latest mass school shooting occurred at an upper-middle class where the students are unusually well-spoken and media-savvy and quite righteously pissed off, and that so far our president’s unfounded and profanely worded “tweets” are getting the worst of it.
Other Trump “tweets” attacked his own National Security Advisor, didn’t mention the porn star and Playboy playmate that have lately figured in the presidential news, and basically did nothing to make America great again.

— Bud Norman

The Plot Thickens

Pity the poor fellows who have to come up with the next best-selling cloak-and-dagger novel or big-budget spy movie screenplay. Such a staid source as The New York Times is reporting that the former British intelligence agent who compiled the dossier with the salacious allegations about the president-elect that was included in the classified yet widely read reports of Russia’s meddling in the recent election has now gone missing, and even the likes of Ian Fleming or John Le Carre would be hard pressed to top that plot twist in the latest reality show thriller.
The plot was already plenty complicated, even if you’re sticking with the most staid sources and not looking into the conspiracy theory sites, where the even the most fevered imaginings no longer seem so far-fetched. By now even even president-elect Donald Trump admits that he thinks it was probably the Russians who hacked and leaked some Democratic operatives’ e-mails and otherwise meddled in the past presidential election, but he’s still holding out hope that it wasn’t and in any case he scoffs at the idea it had anything to do with his victory and urges the American people to get on with their lives, and he seems mostly angry with the American intelligence agencies who have been leaking their conclusions about Russia’s meddling to the press, and of course with the press that has been reporting the leaks. Then came that dossier compiled by the former British intelligence agent full of salacious allegations that no one can very and no one can stop talking about, and after sitting on the news of its existence for months the press had to acknowledge it after it was included in the high-level briefings about the whole Russia thing, and Trump’s further outrage with both the intelligence agencies and the press has only made it harder not to talk about.
Now the former MI6 operative who compiled the dossier, reportedly at first with funding from some of Trump’s Republican primary opponents and their backers and then from the Democrats and ultimately for his own reasons, has gone missing, so the conspiracy theorists should have fun with that. There was already a wide range of theories, ranging from far-left to far-right, with some theorizing that Trump is indeed a puppet of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin because of debts to the Russian mob or the blackmail scenario alleged in the dossier, others arguing that Trump is being undermined by his own country’s intelligence agencies in order to prevent him from dismantling some corrupt and hidden power structure, and other contending that Russia is playing its best prank yet. At a time when the president-elect has alleged his predecessor was foreign-born and the previous president and the nation’s intelligence agencies lied America into a war for some unknown reason and that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the Kennedy assassination, all seem at least somewhat plausible.
All that talk about Trump owing debts to Russia and his son’s past statement that a lot of the family financing was coming from there will surely be put to rest when he releases his tax records, and all those salacious allegations in the dossier are dubious enough that even the late night comics are acknowledging that they are unverified even as they endlessly riff on the golden opportunities it presents, but there has to be some explanation for Trump’s out-in-the-open mutual admiration with Putin. Trump argues that it’s because friendly relations with Russia will help America defeat the Islamic State restrain Chinese ambitions, which is arguable, but there’s also an argument to be made that Russia has been less interested in defeating than Islamic State than in propping up the mass-murdering Syrian dictatorship that is aligned with the same Iranian apocalyptic suicide cult that Trump has vowed to get tough with, and that his threatened tariff on Chinese goods is going to cost his working class supporters another 45 percent on every trip to Wal-Mart, and that friendship with the nascent democracies of the former Soviet Union is more honorable and desirable than friendship with the oppressive kleptocracy that now threatens to re-conquer them.
By now we’ve all seen enough Hollywood movies to know that the intelligence agencies might just be out to get Trump, though, and there’s no denying that they have from time to time been up to some pretty nasty business. They have an obvious motivation to dislike Trump, who had made his contempt for them quite clear throughout the campaign. and we can easily imagine that they leaked their conclusions about Russia’s meddling with a certain glee. There’s still the matter of whether their conclusions were correct or not, although even Trump now says he probably thinks so, and the related question of whether the public has a right to know about, which Trump had no problem with when Democrats’ alleged scandals were being leaked, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any spook agency malice involved. Trump has likened the leaks to something from Nazi Germany, which seems a been overblown, given that none of Nazi Germany’s intelligence were leaking anything about the great leader who was going to make Germany great again, but as the old joke goes just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
Our favorite of the conspiracy theories is the one about the Russians playing a prank. The once-highly respected former British intelligence agent who compiled the dossier was once the Russian expert for the MI6, a name familiar to any James Bond fan, and after leaving Her Majesty’s Secret Service he made a good living selling advice to western corporations and businessmen about how to deal with Russia’s highly complicated graft system, and there’s much speculation that his previously reliable sources fed him a lot of nonsense about Trump that would seem so highly dubious that all the talk about Trump being a Putin puppet would be ridiculed, and people would stop wondering why Trump’s foreign policy was so suspiciously friendly to Russia. If that was the plan, at least they’ve stopped any substantive debate regarding the merits of Trump’s stated intentions, and all the late night comics are telling kinky sex jokes instead.
Various other conspiracists are theorizing that the spy agencies and their brief cases full of high-tech gadgets will somehow prevent will Trump from being sworn into office, but at least we’ll know within a week if that proves true. It should be a while longer before we know what’s become of that former British intelligence agent, but our guess is that he’s holed up somewhere avoiding interviews and waiting for the highest bid from the publishing houses and movie studios.

— Bud Norman