A Rainy Day of Gloomy News

Wednesday’s weather here in Wichita was rainy and chilly and gray, so there was little to do in a shut down city than stay at home and read the equally gloomy news.
One prominent story was about the forced departure of scientist Richard Bright from his head post at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which Bright said was prompted by his public warning that “government should invest the billions of of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that that lack scientific merit.” One needn’t have a Ph.D. in immunology, as Bright does, to know that he was talking about hydroxychloroquine, a drug that President Donald Trump and the prime time lineup of Fox News opinion show hosts have touted as a cure for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Hydroxychloroquine has proved effective against malaria and other diseases, but no studies have shown it can cure Covid-19 and recent studies have suggested it can cause fatal heart arrhythmia in patients suffering from that disease. Trump has a tendency to defenestrate anyone who dares publicly disagree with him, and officials ranging from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to former national security advisor H.R. McMaster to the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt have all been ousted not for the mistakes they made rather for things they did right. The president’s penchant for dismissing not only expertise but the experts themselves is especially worrisome in the time of a global pandemic that is killing thousands of Americans each day.
In happier story, Trump was apparently persuaded to criticize the Republican governor of Georgia for lifting all the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in that state earlier than what the consensus of expert opinion recommends. Trump hasn’t recanted his advice to protestors in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia to “LIBERATE” their states from restrictions imposed by the Democratic governors of those states, but his willingness to criticize a Republican governor is nonetheless encouraging. It’s most likely a preemptive move to avoid blame for the outbreak of new coronavirus cases that is almost certain to ensure, but at least he’s listening to knowledgable advisors rather than trusting his gut instincts for a change.
Elsewhere in the news, Trump also stated that Naval officers are authorized to “shoot down” any Iranian ships that continue to harass the American fleet. Trump apparently isn’t hep to military lingo, in which you “shoot down” enemy aircraft and “sink” enemy vessels, but otherwise we can’t criticize the statement. Longstanding policy allows American ships to defend themselves against any imminent deadly threat, but Trump was probably wise to emphasize it to the erratic Iranian mullahcracy. The story got bottom-of-the-page coverage because the top of the page is all about the coronavirus, but it is related to the extent that the Iranians might have decided to exploit America’s current preoccupation with coronavirus to harass American ships. There are already conspiracy theories on the left that Trump is itching for a war with Iran to divert attention from his handling of the coronavirus, but we doubt it, as Trump was eager to run for reelection on a peace-and-prosperity pitch and would like to have at least one of the two to brag about come November.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also made headlines by telling a radio interviewer that he’d rather let states running debts dealing with coronavirus while their economies are collapsing as a result of the epidemic declare bankruptcy rather than receive more federal aid. Trump and numerous other Republicans quickly disagreed, another encouraging development, but it was another reminder of the expensively unprecedented mess the country is currently in.
Via Facebook we learned that one of our favorite people is losing her brave battle against pancreatic cancer, and there were no baseball box scores to pore over, so it was a rather desultory day. Our Okie relatives on Facebook shared a picture from Tuesday of a tornado with a rainbow clearly visible in the background, so we’ll take some hope in that and try to get a good sleep and wake up this afternoon to a better day.

— Bud Norman

These Scary Times

Having survived the swine flu and the bird flu and AIDS and SARs and the Ebola virus and all the other pandemics that were supposed to wipe out humankind, we’ve been feeling pretty cocky about our chances of surviving this newfangled coronavirus. After what happened on Wall Street on Monday, however, we’re at less a wee bit nervous.
News that the coronavirus has spread from China to South Korea, Iran and Italy renewed concerns that it will further disrupt the international trade system and the many gazillions of money that it generates, which has already seen much global several business with the gargantuan Chinese economy brought to a screeching halt. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped a jaw-dropping 1031 points, which is a jaw-dropping 3.6 percent, and the Standard & Poor and NASDAQ suffered even worse percentage losses, and for now all the smart money seems scared.
Aside from the already horrific death toll and severe economic consequences from the coronavirus, there are also political implications. President Donald Trump can’t plausibly be blamed for the coronavirus and the resulting stock markets, but he always implausibly claimed full credit for all the impressive stock market gains during his administration and has thus tied his political fortunes to the latest indexes. Decisive presidential leadership is called for, but at this point there’s not much Trump or any possible president might do.
The White House has requested congress to pass a $1.8 billion emergency spending bill to bring the total of spending on the coronavirus to $2.5 billion, which is a good idea that will probably win bipartisan approval, but by Washington standards that’s a relatively puny amount of money to throw at a problem of this size. There are many very smart people in America’s scientific community, but for now the smart money is betting that they won’t have this problem solved by election day, which seems a smart bet to us.
Trump is also calling on the Federal Reserve and the rest of the world’s central banks to reassure the world markets with a fresh infusion of that sweet opium of newly-printed cash, but at this point there’s not much more they can do. Several of the world’s biggest economies are offering below zero interest rates, which is every bit as stupid as it sounds, and despite what Trump has called the best American economy ever the Federal Reserve has been setting interest rates historically close to zero and the budget deficit is over a trillion dollars. A debt-ridden America and the rest of the debt-ridden world are ill-prepared to deal with one of those occasional Black Swan events, as the smarty-pants economists call it.
Which is not to say that any of those damned Democrats running for the presidency have any solutions. Self-described socialist and current Democratic front-runner Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will have a a harder time paying for his all his trillions of dollars of spending on all of America’s problems if there’s an economic downturn. The relatively sane and centrist Democratic candidates also don’t have any answers, and we frankly admit that neither nor do we few remaining NeverTrump Republicans,
Pretty much everyone anti-Trump will get their digs in, though. Trump has taken his usual position against foreigners entering the country, but some very quarantined cases of the virus have come in, and Trump’s skepticism about fancy pants scientists seems to have decimated the government agencies charged with dealing with pandemics. Trump has questioned the scientific community’s assessments of global climate change and the quality of America’s air and water and the cancerous effects of wind turbines, and he’ll probably soon ask you to believe that he knows more about the coronavirus than anyone.
Even so, we expect to eventually die from something other than the coronavirus, and to survive whatever political and economic upheavals it might bring. Which is not to say it will be a happy ending for anybody.

— Bud Norman

Pompeo vs. National Public Radio

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is having a nasty spat with a National Public Radio reporter named Mary Louise Kelly, and we’re sure that President Donald Trump and his most ardent admirers are loving it. The true Trump believers despise pretty much all media except for Fox News and the Sinclair Network and their favorite talk radio talkers, and have a special disdain for such fancy-pants and know-it-all outlets as NPR, so they love seeing those pesky reporters being treated rudely.
Since the age of 19 we’ve been involved in some journalism pursuit or another, and that’s been such a long, long time we’ve become inured to a certain amount of press-bashing. There was no way of avoiding someone’s anger when we covered Wichita’s divisive anti-abortion protests and pro-abortion rights counter-protests back in the ’90s, and even though we’d been interns in the office of Sen. Bob Dole and always voted for him he tried to score some points by lashing out at us, and no matter how meticulously we balanced the Republican and Democratic arguments in our coverage of ant campaign we always got hateful letters from one side or the other and usually both.
Although we well understand the conservative complaint that most of the press leans toward liberalism, and have made that case in countless editorial meetings and internet essays, but that nasty spat between Pompeo and Kelly seems another example of how it’s gone too far. We voted for Pompeo every time he ran for Kansas’ fourth district House seat, but we’ve lost a lot of respect for him since then, and in this case it appears he’s being dishonest and dodging legitimate questions and losing his temper in a way that Secretaries of State should never do.
It all started during a long-scheduled interview when Kelly asked Pompeo about the firing of Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, which is an important matter in the current impeachment trial of Trump, and Pompeo replied that “I agreed to come to on your show today to talk about Iran,” then angrily answered follow-up questions by insisting that he’d defended all State Department employees, and according to NPR he then “stood, leaned and silently glared at Kelly for several seconds before leaving the room.”
By NPR’s account, a few moments later Kelly was called into Pompeo’s private living room at the State Department, where he shouted at her for asking questions about Ukraine, which he insisted had not been agreed to when scheduling the interview. Kelly said Pompeo shouted “Do you think the American people care about Ukraine?,” with Kelly adding that he’d used the “f-word” a couple of times during the tirade. She also said Pompeo dared her to find Ukraine on a map with no names.
When NPR reported this, Pompeo charged that they’d violated a journalistic oath to keep the second conversation off the record. A later Pompeo statement called it “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this administration.”
NPR is indeed a left-leaning news organization, and they have that annoying soft-spoken and haughty-sounding way of broadcasting that always grates on our ears, but their account of the matter seems more true to our experienced eyes, and they don’t just make stuff up the way the Trump administration does. Both Iran and Ukraine are matters of public interest that any experienced journalist would want to talk about with the Secretary of State, and we can’t imagine that the seasoned Kelly and her seasoned producers would have agreed to leave Ukraine out of the interview. Kelly didn’t bring a microphone into Pompeo’s personal living room, but according the the rules of the journalism game that’s not the same as agreeing to go off the record, and we can’t imagine Kelly doing that. Pompeo confirmed the part about daring Kelly to find Ukraine on the map when he “tweeted” that “Ukraine is not Bangladesh,” but we can’t imagine that a woman with a Master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge University who has also extensively reported from south Asia would make that glaring mistake.
We can far more easily imagine that Pompeo was simply in no mood to answer any questions from a pesky reporter about the arguably impeachable Ukraine matter, which he’s up to his neck in and keeps looking worse with each passing day of audio and video recordings and other evidence in the hated mainstream media, and he became, for lack of a better word, unhinged, and in a way that Secretaries of State should never do. By now lashing out at anyone who asks a question rather than answering it is either a feature or a bug of the Trump administration, depending on your point of view. He was mostly well-hinged back when he had the relatively easy job of being Kansas’ fourth district congressman, with only the decimated Kansas media and its mostly Republican audience to contended with, but he lately seems under more stress.
The die-hard fans will continue to love the administration’s robust resistance to hated media, and believe they’re just speaking truth to power, but the rest of the country will want to some hear honest answers to the pesky but quite reasonable questions that are being asked of the people who are actually in power.

— Bud Norman

About That Speech

President Donald Trump’s address to the nation on Wednesday had the effect of easing the tension between the United States and Iran, and that’s a good thing. Even so, the performance struck us as strange even by Trump standards.
After entering the room through an eerie blue backlight, Trump began by saying “As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” He then said, “Good morning.”
Iran launched 22 rockets at an American base in Iraq on Tuesday, a retaliation for a drone strike the killed the country’s highest ranking general, but no casualties resulted and Trump declined to retaliate in turn and said Iran is “standing down.” That was enough to send the stock markets back up and bring sighs of relief in capitals around the world, but the triumphal tone is probably premature.
Iran still has plenty of asymmetrical ways to strike at the United States, and has long proved willing to use them. Since Trump withdrew America from an imperfect deal to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions the Iran regime has announced it no longer feels obliged to uphold its end of the bargain and is once again spinning centrifuges, and Trump doesn’t seem close to striking the perfect deal he promised. The six European allies who helped America with that imperfect deal are openly displeased with Trump for pulling out, among other things, and Trump hasn’t shown a knack for forging international coalitions.
There’s still some confusion about America’s standing in Iraq, as the government there has asked us to leave, and Trump is refusing to do so unless they pay for a base America built there after what Trump has said was an unjustified invasion of their sovereign territory, even as he continues to promise a retreat from the Middle East while increasing our troop levels there. He’s backed off from his threat to bomb Iran’s most important cultural sites, a war crime that civilized countries simply don’t commit, but he’ll probably continue to say things like that.
We’re assured that Trump is a very stable genius who is playing out brilliant geopolitical strategy, but we didn’t find the speech reassuring. Despite reading from a teleprompter scrip that clearly had been written in part by more restrained foreign policy and better wordsmiths, Trump still digressed from the topic at hand to claim complete credit for America’s healthy economy and take a gratuitous and not entirely accurate swipe at President Barack Obama. He audibly sniffed 58 times according to one count, he stumbled over such hard-to-pronounce words as “tolerate,” and noticeably several others. At no point did he explain how he’ll back up his opening boast that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.
Congress will vote today on a resolution to restrict Trump’s foreign policy powers, and it looks like it will get a few Republican votes, which will further complicate things.
He refrained from any provocative playground taunts, on the other hand, so for now we’ll give him credit for that and hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

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

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

Choosing Between Scylla and Charybdis

There’s a very complicated situation in the Middle East, as always, and President Donald Trump is of course “tweeting” about it.
A drone attack destroyed much of a major Saudi Arabian oil field, and although a Yemeni rebel group that has been fighting a bloody defensive war with Saudi Arabia and is allied with Iran has claimed responsibility the State Department and America’s intelligence are blaming the Iranian government. Trump’s first “tweet” on the matter said “There is reason to believe we know the culprit, but are locked and loaded depending upon verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed.”
Trump’s “tweet” was characteristically hard to parse, but there was no mistaking a certain belligerence in its tone, as well as certain deference to the Saudis, who have concluded the Iranians are to blame, and Trump and his spokespeople have spent the past two days dialing that back. The Pentagon would reportedly prefer not to fight a war on Saudi Arabia’s behalf, even if the Saudis pay for it, as Trump has suggested, and Trump has repeatedly assured the news media that he does not want another war, although he continues to boast of how ready the military is to wage one.
Our best guess is that Trump genuinely wants to avoid any new Middle East wars. Trump ran as a peacenik, even going so far as to accuse President George W. Bush of lying America into a war with Iraq, a claim previously made only by the far left, and although he fancies himself a tough guy he takes even more pride in his dealmaking prowess, and a new war in the Middle East would be embarrassing. So far Trump hasn’t been able to keep his campaign promises to extract American forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, and critics will plausiblyblame his unilateral withdrawal from a nuclear treaty with Iran for provoking any conflict that might follow, and there will also be troublesome questions about why Trump seems so eager to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia’s awful government.
As Trump’s favorite Rolling Stones song says, though, you can’t always get what you want. The Iranian government is even more awful than Saudi Arabia’s, and Trump will not want to negotiate a new nuclear deal from a position of weakness. He also “tweeted” a grip that the “fake news” media had peddled the lie that he was willing to meet the Iranian dictatorship without any preconditions, which prompted all the networks except Fox News to gleefully replay all the videotape of Trump and his spokespeople repeatedly and explicitly saying he was willing to meet without any preconditions, so he clearly doesn’t want to be seen as an accommodationist.
The Iranians have become increasingly provocative since America reimposed economic sanctions, seizing commercial oil tankers and threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz and shooting down an America drone in international air space, and if they continue to escalate their misbehavior even the most pacifist president will eventually have to do something about it. America can’t apply any more economic sanctions, as we’ve already cut off all trade with the regime, which so far hasn’t had the effect that was hoped for, and given Trump’s tenuous relations with the rest of the world he’s unlikely to recruit other countries to join the boycott.
Thanks to fracking and other new technologies America has produced enough energy to sustain its economy since the final years of President Barack Obama’s administration, with no thanks to either Obama or Trump, but oil is an internationally traded commodity and a blow to a major supplier such as Saudi Arabia will result in high prices at your local pump. The global economy was already slowing before the latest Middle East flare-up, in large part because of the global trade war Trump started, so a war would be very bad for everyone’s business, including Trump’s reelection campaign.
If the Iranians continue to impede the flow of oil and thereby cause a global crash that would also look bad. For now Trump finds himself in a damned-if-you and damned-if-you-don’t situation, he has no national security advisor and only an acting Secretary of Defense, he seems beholden for some reason or another to the Saudis, and so far his much bragged about gut instincts and dealmaking prowess haven’t proved impressive.
Here’s hoping it all works out somehow.

— Bud Norman

Those Damned Democrats and Their Interminable Debates

Our brother and sister-in-law have been in town this week, and we’ve been spending time with them and our parents, but we’ve nonetheless been keeping up with the news. Our family is as weirdly obsessed with politics as we are, so we wound up spending much of Wednesday night together eating Schlotzsky’s sandwiches and watching the second episode of the second round of the Democrats’ presidential debates.
None of us were the debaters’ intended audience, so it was hard to assess who won. Our brother is willing to defend almost anything President Donald Trump does or says or “tweets,” our parents more reluctantly go along with most of it, although he did admit he didn’t like Trump trying to interfere with the Federal Reserves’ fiscal policies, and our sister-in-law is more reticent and circumspect and therefore seems our sort of old-fashioned Kansas Republican. as much as we dislike Trump we have to agree with all of them that these damned Democrats are arguably even worse. Every time we all found ourselves in agreement with any of the candidates we figured he or she was losing points with the more important audience of dumb-assed Democratic voters.
So far as we can tell the from the many press reports Tuesday night’s first episode of the second round of the debates had the same flavor of the little-known relatively center-left candidates warning about the far-left front-runners dragging the country into bankruptcy and even worse a loss to Trump. We’re holding out hope that one of those relatively center-left candidates will prevail, but given even our brother’s reluctant enthusiasm for a couple of them they probably stand no chance of a Democratic nomination.
Some Republicans out there are hoping the Democrats will go whole hog with the free this and free that and open borders and handcuffed law enforcement talk, figuring that even Trump could beat that, and they might just be right. It’s plausible enough that we’re warning all Democrat friends about it, but they don’t seem to be listening. Those Republicans who also desire the most far-left Democratic nominee should be careful what they wish for, though, as it’s not out of the question that he or she could beat Trump.
Trump’s got a very low unemployment rate and the usual low inflation rate and an economy that seems to be churning along at just below the 3 percent gross domestic product growth rate he’d promised, and while his best friend in North Korea is testing new nuclear missiles and his sworn enemies in Iran are doing the same no new wars have yet been started, so any Republican president who didn’t make a point of pissing many people off every day should be riding high in the polls. Trump is a different type of Republican president, though, and even the most recent Fox News poll shows that 47 percent of the public already wants to impeach him, with only 45 percent objecting to the idea. He’s not yet topped a 50 percent approval rating in any public opinion poll, including the infamously skewed Rasmussen Report, and he strikes us vulnerable to anyone the damned Democrats might come up with.
There are only two or three contenders in the Democratic field that we’d consider voting for, but that means they have no chance of getting the nomination, and yet there’s still no one so awful in field that we’d cast an affirmative vote for Trump. For the second presidential election in a row we’ll probably wind up throwing away our vote on some futile independent nominee running on what used to be the Republican platform, and we’ll let the rest of the country decide how badly things turn out.

— Bud Norman

“BoJo,” “Brexit,” and Trump

Over the past many decades there have often been intriguing similarities between America’s presidents and the United Kingdom’s prime ministers.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a conservative Tory and President Franklin Roosevelt a liberal Democrat, but both men came from aristocratic backgrounds and excellent educations and they shared an instinctive abhorrence of Nazism, and Churchill came to share the Cold War stage with President Dwight Eisenhower. Prime Minister Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher was an iconoclastic conservative Tory whose election paved the way for President Ronald Reagan’s equally iron-willed and controversial conservative Republicanism. Reagan was succeeded by the more cautiously conservative President George H.W. Bush at about the same time that was followed by Prime Minister John Major, a cautiously conservative tory with the same sort of establishment pedigree as his American counterpart. President Bill Clinton ended 12 years of Republican presidencies by promising a centrist “third way,” and he was soon joined by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ended a long run of Tory residence at Number 10 Downing Street on a similar centrist platform.
Since then Republican presidents have sometimes had to get along with Labour Prime Ministers and Democrats have overlapped with Tories, but for the most part the Special Relationship persisted. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump often clashed with Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, who had a more refined style and didn’t share his nationalist instincts, but she’s lately been forced to resign, and will now be replaced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is about as close a copy of Trump as the United Kingdom can find.
Johnson has a longstanding reputation for making up facts that suit him and bluntly insulting anyone who disputes his version of the truth, he’s a Britain-first nationalist who shares Trump’s distrust of international alliances and institutions, he was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and he arguably has an even more ridiculous hair style than the American president. Trump had signaled he would have preferred the even more anti-European Union politician Nigel Farage, who campaigned for Trump during his presidential race, but we expect that he and Johnson will get along quite well at the upcoming economic summits.
Johnson first gained notice in Britain as a journalist, which is a marked contrast from Trump, but we think Trump would have liked his style. He was an anti-European Union crusader at a time when Britain’s entry into the economic alliance was a hotly debated issue. There were plenty of good reasons for Britain to retain its independence, including nosy regulations and open border policies and one-size-fits-all currency, but Johnson wasn’t satisfied with that and invented all sorts of fanciful tales about condom size regulations and other outrages, getting fired from the Times of London for falsifying a quote but later finding a home at the Tory-leaning Telegraph. He parlayed his popularity into eight controversial but not at all catastrophic years as Mayor of London, and then somehow wound in May’s cabinet as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Britain’s limited involvement in the European Union remained a controversial issue, with the country eventually voting by a slim margin in a referendum to “Brexit” from the agreement. Negotiating the terms of the divorce proved difficult, however, and eventually brought an end to May’s prime ministership. The United Kingdom had wisely followed Thatcher’s advice to retain its Pound Sterling currency rather than accept the Euro that the poorer country’s were using to rack up ruinous debt and require huge bailouts, but it had agreed to accept some very stupid immigration rules and other annoying violations of its sovereignty, so there was ample reason to cut ties with the continent, but on the other hand EU membership also offered very lucrative free trade with the world’s third biggest economy. The EU naturally used that leverage to demand concessions that Johnson and Farage and Trump and other “hard Brexit” advocates resented, and May wound up resigning in frustration with her failure to please anyone.
Perhaps Johnson will have better luck with the negotiations, but the conventional wisdom of American and Fleet Street media is that he’ll have the same problems as May. His Conservative Party and the “Brexit” are both unpopular, Britain’s economy needs the EU more than the EU needs Britain, the country has lately been having its oil tankers seized and harassed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a problem that will require North Atlantic Treaty Organization assistance, and much like Trump he’s widely regarded by the establishment types as a rank amateur who’s in over his ill-coiffed head. The anti-EU Trump has said he’ll reward Britain with a sweetheart trade deal if it makes a “Brexit,” but no matter how sweet it probably won’t be worth as much as free access to the far closer and nearly as large EU economy, and Johnson and Trump have some disagreements on matters ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the importance of the NATO alliance.
Still, we wish “BoJo” and Trump the best of luck working it all out, as America and the United Kingdom have helped one another do ever since that unpleasantness back in 1812. In a couple of years there might a crazy left Democratic president and a crazy left Labourite prime minister who find themselves simpatico, and if so we’ll hold out work that doesn’t end badly.

— Bud Norman

Another Muddled Situation in the Middle East

The Iranian military shot down an American drone aircraft on Thursday, and neither side disputes that. Pretty much everything else about the incident is unclear, however, as is the rest of the increasingly tense relationship between the two countries.
Iran claims the drone was within its sovereign airspace, making the craft fair game to be shot down under international rules, but President Donald Trump claims to have conclusive proof from his intelligence sources that the aircraft was in neutral airspace, which makes the downing an arguable act of war. This further muddles an already muddled situation between the two countries, which is further complicated by the fact that both countries currently have very unpredictable leadership.
The problem started long before Trump way back in the administration of Jimmy Carter when a harsh theocratic dictatorship seized power in Iran, as far as we’re concerned, although they do have a plausible argument it started with America’s backing of the harsh but secular and America-friendly dictatorship of the Shahs way back in the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. In any case, the first thing the theocratic dictatorship did when it took power was to take fifty-two American diplomats hostage, and hold them in inhumane conditions for 444 days until President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, and things between the two countries have been complicated ever since.
We concluded at the time, and to this day believe, that the hostages were released because the nutcase Iranian theocracy had concluded Reagan was going to be far tougher on them than Carter had been, and all of our Democratic friends were equally convinced that Reagan was just as willing to start a global conflagration with even the Soviet Union, so we still figure there’s something to be said for tough diplomacy. Reagan’s administration wound up trading arms with the Iranian theocracy for some hostages it and its terrorist gang proxies still held and using the extra profits to fund anti-communist forces in Nicaragua, on the other hand, and neither the sticks nor the carrots of the subsequent Democratic and Republican administrations have adequately solved the Middle Eastern problem.
With help from six of our most longstanding and militarily formidable European allies and the mighty combined weight of their economic sanctions President Barack Obama persuaded Iran to agree to a temporary shutdown or at least a shutdown of its nuclear weapons program. Critics such as ourselves argued at the time it was only temporary shutdown and arguably just a slowdown of Iran’s nuclear bomb program, and did nothing to curtail its intercontinental missile program or funding of terrorist gang proxies throughout the Middle East, or the nefarious meddling in every Middle Eastern crisis that popped up, and that given the western leverage a better deal could have been reached. All that still rings true, but Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal and and despite his much-bragged about negotiating skill hasn’t yet delivered the promised better one, and things remain unsettled.
Trump has reimposed severe economic sanctions on Iran’s already struggling economy, but none of those six longstanding and militarily formidable European allies have followed suit, and without their combined economic weight and assured military alliance the Iranians are less likely to blink. Trump has been squabbling with all of our longstanding allies around the world ever since he took office, and nutcases though they are the Iranian theocrats have surely noticed, and they might also sense other signs of weakness.
Trump ran for office as a a tough guy who wouldn’t let America be pushed around, but he also ran as Vietnam War draft dodger who alleged President George W. Bush lied America into a Middle Eastern quagmire, even as he criticized Obama for his premature withdrawal from the Iraqi conflict that Bush had allegedly lied us into, and while in office his foreign policy has been similarly schizophrenic. Currently he’s got some old school Cold War Republican internationalists  as Secretary of State and national security advisor, and for embarrassing reasons has no Secretary of Defense at all at the moment, yet he retains his cocksure and surprisingly risk-averse and isolationist instincts, and so far it’s led to a muddled message in the current crisis.
Trump “tweeted” that Iran had made a “very big mistake” by shooting down the drone, adding the usual exclamation mark at the end, but he later clarified that. Trump’s most ardent apologists always tell us we should take his rhetoric seriously but not literally, but in this case Trump explained that he was being literal rather serious. Trump explained he meant to say that Iran had made an actual mistake, with some trigger happy lower-ranking military officer launching the shoot down the $100 million yet unmanned drone without orders from the nutcase theocratic dictatorship, which is just one of those those things that happen in such a complicated world and no reason for nations to go to war.
Trump has also given credence to Iran’s explanations of a couple of attacks on oil tankers on the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran’s terrorist proxies have claimed credit for and which Iran has plausibly claimed it had nothing to do with. Trump’s old school Secretary of State and national advisor have blamed have blamed Iran for threatening a shipping lane crucial to the economies of our longstanding European allies and the rest of the world, but Trump himself has dismissed both incidents as “very minor,” and the self-described tough guy seems in no mood for a fight.
Which is probably for the best, given the current circumstances. We doubt that the nutcase theocratic regime in Iran is any more eager for a fight with the far more formidable United States military, as nutty as the theocratic regime might be, so there’s hope the desultory status quo will last until at least the next American presidential election.
In a more perfect world America wouldn’t have a president who has repeatedly cast international doubt on the conclusions of America’s intelligence, and one who has continued to negotiate with the puny likes of Iran as the leader of a unified coalition of the democratic and militarily and economically formidable western world, but here we are. We can’t say that any of these damned Democratic contenders for the presidency would fare  any better, on the other hand, so for now we’ll hold out hope for even the most desultory sort of  peace.

— Bud Norman