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

A Mere 18 Years Later

Way back when we were 18 years old that seemed a very long time, but at our current age it seems just a blink of the eye since Islamist terrorists toppled the World Trade Center and crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Enough time has passed, however, to change everything.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks America had a rare moment of national unity, unseen since the similarly deadly Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and there was bipartisan support for President George W. Bush waging war against the Taliban government of Afghanistan that had hosted the training camps of the Al-Qaeda terror gang responsible for the atrocity. When Bush later sought to wage war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi dictatorship it was more controversial, but two subsequent Democratic presidential nominees voted to authorize the use of military force, and there was a strong consensus that America had to take the fight to Islamist terrorism.
Public opinion started to shift when both wars proved harder than expected, and without any spectacular attacks on the west the threat of Islamist terrorism seemed to wane over time, and the Democrats were the first to abandon the cause. By 2011 President Barack Obama, who had won the Democratic nomination over former Sen. Hillary Clinton in large part because of her vote for the Iraq War, announced a complete withdrawal of American forces from the country, although he reluctantly remained in Afghanistan. By 2016 the Republicans nominated a candidate who claimed to have been opposed to the Iraq war from the beginning, and echoed the radical left’s false claim that Bush had lied to the country into the conflict, and the consensus of opinion had clearly turned against taking the fight to Islamist terrorism. President Donald Trump has “tweeted” a confession that he even invited the Taliban leadership to Camp David just before the anniversary of the terror attacks they had sponsored, and although the war against radical Islamist terror continues for now it is no longer anyone’s campaign issue.
Our opinion is quite clearly in the minority, but we hate to see America backing off. The war in Afghanistan has been going for nearly 18 years, making it by far America’s longest war, and despite Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq we still have troops there fighting the Islamist State terror gang and the rest of the chaos that predictably resulted, and there is no complete victory in sight, so we can well-understand the war weariness. There haven’t been any “9/11” sized terrorist attacks for so long that many 18-year-olds figure it’s like Fort Sumter or Pearl Harbor or another of those boring chapters in the history books, and there are plenty of problems here at home, so we can’t hardly blame the country for its complacent non-interventionism.
Even so, we think it shortsighted. The long, long wars in the Middle East over the past 18 years have resulted in the deaths of 7,000 or so military personnel, and a similar number of American contractors, and we don’t want to diminish any of these deaths, but by the ruthless mathematics of war that’s just a couple of bad afternoons at Antietam or on Normandy beach, on a monthly basis more people are killed by nut cases with AR-15s at a Wax-Mart or music festival, and it’s a fatality rate that would have convinced previous generations that God had blessed their fight. By now both parties figure that the Islamist terrorism threat is a mere nuisance, as it hasn’t pulled off anything on a 9/11 scale for eighteen years, but both fail to honor those 7,000 or so fallen heroes for making that possible.
America’s Korean War was considered a stalemate, and its Vietnam War an ignominious loss, but despite the horrific fatalities both can now be see as lost battles in a broader Cold War that America and the West won by demonstrating resolve. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars are also seen at last, at least for now, but in the long run history might well note that Islamist radicalism did not prevail in its jihad against the resolve of the infidels.
We’ll not be so absurd as to propose a complete ban on any Muslims entering the country, as Trump once did, but there is a small but troublesome part of the Islamic world intent on making war against us, and for the foreseeable future we figure we’ll have to be at war against them. At least Trump didn’t go ahead and surrender to the radical Islamists from the Taliban he had invited to Camp David on the 18th anniversary of their terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., but he did fire the national security advisor who had advised against it, and he seems eager to end the centuries old war between radical Islam and the West on any terms that will get him reelected next year.
None of those damned Democrats running for president seem any more willing to continue the painful prosecution of a war that the radical Islamists declared against us, but we expect they’ll be as constrained by reality expert opinion as Trump has been and Obama and Bush were. America and what’s left of its diplomatic and military alliances are far stronger than their radical Islamist enemies, but our adversaries won’t soon stop blowing things up and killing innocents in their quixotic war for global domination, and we might yet get used to it. On the 18th anniversary of the deadliest attacked ever launched against American soil, though, we’ll hope that both parties will remember why we fight.

— Bud Norman

A Good Day For Trump, For Now

A steady rain was falling on the just and unjust alike all across the prairie states throughout Wednesday, and it was a cold rain from a gloomy dark gray sky that to seemed to emphasize how all the Christmas cheer was over for another long year, but elsewhere President Donald Trump wound up having one of his better days.
The recently swooning stock markets had an unprecedented rally, and all the cable news networks were obliged to air some flattering footage of Trump being welcomed by the troops at an air base in Iraq, and pretty much everyone in Congress was back home with family and constituent and not making any news trouble for him. Although Trump might have preferred to be golfing at his ritzy Mar-a-Lago resort in sunny south Florida, as previously planned, he surely enjoyed a 24-hour news cycle for the first time in quite a while.
Today brings yet another 24-hour news cycle, however, so we’d advise Trump not to get too cocky.
Our best explanation for that inexplicable surge in the stock markets is that after the past few months of steep declines the investors woke up on the day after Christmas went bargain hunting and wound up in a bidding war, so there’s no telling how long that might last. The unemployment rate is still low by historical norms and the global and domestic economies are clearly slowing they’re also still expanding at their typically slow paces, but that’s all the more reason for the Federal Reserve Board to nudge interest rates slightly closer to historical norms, and a global trade war is still being waged, and there’s more than the usual amount of certainty in the politics almost everywhere, so we’ll wait and how the smart money sorts all of that out. If you’re at all familiar with the most fundamental laws of high finance you by now know that when the stock market goes up it is because of Trump, and when it goes down it’s somebody else’s fault, so no matter how it turns out at least we’d be willing to wager some serious dough on how Trump will spin the next few news cycles.
Even the “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” media had to acknowledge that Trump had paid a potentially risky visit to the brave and selfless men and women who had been working through Christmas in a war zone, so such old-fashioned Never-Trump Republican types as ourselves are also obliged to give credit where credit is due. The traditional presidential visit that all of the past several Democratic and Republicans presidents made came after nearly two years of criticism from most quarters for failing to do so, which was heightened last November when Trump skipped a visit to an American World War I cemetery in France during a commemoration of the centennial of Armistice Day, which was attended by all of the heads of states of the winning allies but skipped by Trump due to a light rain, and then again when played golf rather than the lay the traditional presidential wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veteran’s Day, but there’s still no denying Trump did eventually make the trip.
The trip also raised questions about Trump’s overall foreign policy performance, though, which have been raised on both sides of the political aisle, and they’re likely to linger through the coming year of 24-hour news cycles and probably won’t provide such favorable photo opportunities. Trump felt obliged to explain his recent decision to withdraw troops from Syria and draw down troops in Afghanistan, which led to the resignation of the wise and wizened and widely respected four-star general who had been his Secretary of Defense, and although he’d earlier said that it because the mission of defeating the Islamic State had been won he wound up telling the troops that he expected our newfound friends in the Russian and Iranian dictatorships to help the Syrian dictatorship finish the job. Most of those brave men and women wearing boots on the ground have the poetic idea that theirs is not to make reply, their is not to question why, but theirs is but to do and die, and they seemed genuinely grateful for a visit from their commander in chief. Much of the higher brass watching over them seems to have its doubts, as do many of America’s erstwhile allies in Europe and the Middle East and elsewhere, and under a gloomy and rainy Kansas sky far away from the front lines we indulge in the luxury of our own worries.
All of those Senators and Representatives will be soon back in Washington and supplying critical sound bits to the cable news networks and damning quotes to the mainstream press, and early next year a sizable majority of the Representatives will be damned Democrats and lately even some of the slight majority of Republicans in the Senate have been restive on a number of issues. The special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” will be back from its Christmas holiday, too, and it seems a sure bet that Trump will have some less happy 24-hour news cycles in the coming year.
He should get in a few more golf rounds, though, and we’ll generously wish him and the rest of the world nothing but fairways and greens.

— Bud Norman

Another Memorial Day

Today’s a good day for burgers and beer and goofing off and other great American things, but one should also aside a few moments of gratitude for the brave soldiers and sailors and airmen who make them possible. In hopes of helping, we’ll observe our tradition of re-posting an essay we first published back in ’12. It’s still all too true.

On a long walk through old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass diving a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rife and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that tarnished a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American War and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and the the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war last for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before on to the more exciting tales of the ’60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial preeminence on the world state, and permanently altered, for better and worse, the the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and the giant Keeper of the Plains statue at the confluence of the rivers, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another monument lists the names of the many local men who died serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a more elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of the conflicted had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some Americans veterans of the war have publicly complained about the include of a non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt, not just by the world but by individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the Union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the Wichita boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city were are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markets to honor the men and women who have fought for this country, and of course a good many graves for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq War, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor those for fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive all of us, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishments of even tenuous democracies in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the defeats of Al-Qade and the Islamic State might yet prove a boon to humanity, and that faint hope is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the wars have been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for American in even the most controversial wars, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and be grateful.

— Bud Norman

Your Candidates For Commander-in-Chief, Alas

While President Barack Obama was making another stop on his diplomatic trip to the Far East Wednesday, his would-be successors were appearing on the MSNBC cable network’s “Commander in Chief Forum,” with both spending a half-hour or so answering a series of questions about defense and foreign policy from the National Broadcasting Company’s Matt Lauer and selected members of a an audience comprised mostly of military veterans. None of it, needless to say, was at all reassuring.
A dear friend’s 70th birthday party and a principled lack of cable access kept us from watching the event live, but thanks to the modern miracle of YouTube we were able to watch all the grilling of both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and without commercial interruption at that. We can’t recommend you do, though, as the lack of direct confrontation between the candidates made for rather dreary viewing.
An unfavorable coin toss determined that Clinton would be given the first half-hour, ending that remarkable 6-for-6 coin-flipping streak that helped her win the Iowa caucus, and her bad luck didn’t end there. She had a well-crafted introductory statement about her long experience in foreign affairs as a First Lady and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Secretary of State, and how it has honed her judgment, but that just walked right into Lauer’s first question about that unindexed and yet ongoing e-mail scandal of hers. She had a well-rehearsed answer acknowledging that it had been a mistake to use a private server for many of e-mail communications, insisted she had used only the government server for anything with a “header” indicating it was classified. She clearly hoped that no one would know that much classifiable information was coming to her attention before it could be classified, and that someone with better judgment would have treated it as such, and that there are plenty of other holes in her story. Alas, the next audience member was an Air Force veteran whose work had required security clearances, and who was convinced that he would have been jailed for the actions Clinton has now admitted, so she had to run through yet another variation on the same unconvincing lines.
Lauer then asked about Clinton’s vote as a senator in favor of the Iraq War, which is by now such an unpopular affair that the Republican nominee is bragging that he had always opposed it and that George W. Bush had lied the country into the mess. Clinton once again apologized for the vote, and rightly noted that Trump’s claims to have been opposed all along are completely baseless, then made a plausible argument that her willingness to admit and learn from mistakes has improved her judgment. Although still on the defensive she seemed to be punching back at that point, but the next question was about that awful deal the Obama administration struck with the Iranians on their nuclear weapons programs.
Clinton first noted about how she had worked to impose harsh sanctions on the Iranian government, without acknowledging that the sanctions had begun under the previous administration, then boasted that had succeeded in forcing Iran to the negotiating table. Given the worse-than-Nevill-Chamberlain sort of appeasement that resulted from the negotiations this hardly seems a success, but at least the worst of the deal was finalized by her successor as Secretary of State. She’ll be very tough in enforcing that awful package of appeasement, Clinton assured the audience, and she also talked tough about Iran’s many other outrages, and we had a certain sense that she was trying to put at least some distance between herself and the Obama administration.
There was also talk about the sorry state of the Veterans Administration, which Clinton can’t be readily blamed for and which she seemed plenty outraged about, and when asked to explain her policy toward the Islamic State “as briefly as you can” she sounded very hawkish even as she promised there would be no ground troops in either Iraq or Syria. She also talked about going after Islamic State leader Bagu al-Baghdadi, “just like we did with Osama bin Laden,” reminding the audience of the Obama administration’s biggest hit of the past seven-and-a-half-years, and finished with a vow to be tough on terrorism but making no promises to prevent it altogether.
Even Trump’s most media-averse admirers would be hard pressed to find fault with Lauer’s performance, which kept Clinton on the defensive through most of the interview. A more thorough interrogation about the e-mails would have required the hours that Republican congressional investigations spent on the matter, so we’ll also give Lauer some reluctant credit for compressing it into a few challenges about her most outrageous claims. Even Clinton’s most die-hard detractors would have to admit that she seemed quite feisty in her defense, however, with none of the coughing fits or fatigue or seizures or other afflictions that have lately been talked about all over the internet, and unless you’re already well aware of what she was talking there were no takeaway gaffes. We imagine that her most avid fans were well pleased with the performance, that her most disdainful detractors were not at all swayed, and that anyone in the undecided ranks would be waiting to hear what the Republican might say.
What the Republican had to say was hard to parse, as usual, but so far as we can tell it boiled down to him saying that everything was going to be great with him in charge, believe him. Asked what experiences he had to demonstrate the judgment to run America’s foreign he mentioned his vast business empire, which includes deals in countries overseas, some of which of are really taking advantage of the rest of the United States, believe him, so surely he could tell when it was necessary to put American military lives in harm’s way. He reiterated his lie that he was speaking out against the Iraq War before it was launched, citing an interview in GQ magazine that appeared about a year into the war as proof, and added that the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq was also a “total disaster.” Trump was asked about his well-known propensity to say outrageous things, and his own recent admission that he has occasionally chosen wrong words, and how that might affect his performance as a head of state, and Trump went on about how certain wrong words were needed to defeat all those more qualified Republican candidates that stood in his way to the nomination. He then mentioned his recent trip to Mexico, where he was respectfully greeted with diplomatic protocol and didn’t say anything to get him kicked out, then bragged that the trip had been so successful that some Mexican official who arranged the trip was fired due to the Mexican public’s ensuing outrage over the invitation.
Lauer revived an old Trump quote claiming to know more about the Islamic State than the American military’s generals did, and Trump noted that the generals have no been successful thus far, although he blamed Obama and Secretaries of State Clinton and John Kerry for the failure, and that there might well be an entirely different group of generals he’ll be dealing with that, and that they’ll be the types who won’t have MacArthur and Patton spinning in their graves. He even suggested that his secret plan for defeating the Islamic State will await the 30 days he’s giving the generals to come up with their own plan, and that their might might even be incorporated into his secret plan, but in any case it’s going to be a great plan, believe him.
Whatever that plan might turn out to be, be assured that if it amounts to any military action at all it’s going to include plenty of old-fashioned plunder. Trump has embraced the far-left’s chants about “Bush lied, people died,” but he clearly has no use for that “No blood for oil” slogan, and explained that “I’ve always said we shouldn’t be in there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil.” At this point Lauer made a rare interruption to ask how that might be accomplished, and Trump acknowledged that some people would be “left behind” to get the job done, and Lauer didn’t ask how many of these people there would be, or how many soldiers and airmen would be needed to protect them, much less the many hundreds of miles of pipelines and supply lines need for the project, not to mention the fallout from the inevitable worldwide outrage over the planet’s mightiest military power claiming waging openly proclaimed wars of plunder.
A woman who was introduced as a Democrat and a graduate of the first West Point class to include women got to ask a question about illegal immigrants being allowed in the military, seeming to favor the idea herself, and she got a big hand for that first woman West Pointer distinction, and with his usual keen sense of the crowd Trump said he would work with that. The next questions were about Russia, though, and not so easily handled.
Whatever concerns the people of Mexico or those unfortunate oil-rich lands currently held by the Islamic State might have about a Trump administration, the future of Russo-American relations look rosy indeed, believe him. Trump once again confidently predicted he would have “a good relationship with Putin, and a very good relationship with Russia,” again promised that “as long as he says good things about me, I’ll say good things about him,” protested an interjection by Lauer about the likelihood that Putin’s government hacked the Democratic National Committee by saying “nobody knows that for a fact,” lamented that Obama and Putin were photographed exchanging icy stares during the Group of 20 summit, and seemed sure he’d get a more respectful Air Force One greeting from the Russians than Obama got from the Chinese. Trump suggested a possible alliance with the Russians against the Islamic State, made no mention of Russia’s aggression in Georgia and the Ukraine and threats against much of the rest of the former Soviet empire, and when asked about such issues he said “it’s possible” that Putin will abandon his revanchist ambitions in the event of a Trump administration.
Trump was also asked about the VA, a problem he also cannot be credibly blamed for and is plenty outraged about, and he offered what seemed a sensible idea of providing vouchers for veterans to seek care in the private sector when waiting lines at the government-run doctor’s office became dangerously long. Clinton had scored some points with the veterans by opposing “privatization,” which according to the polls even scares veterans in this day and age, and we note that Trump took pains to insist his plan wasn’t “privatization.” We’d prefer a capitalist-minded Republican who’d embrace the term and make the compelling case for it, and there’s no better case to be made for it than government-run health care, but these days that’s too much to ask for. One of the last questions was about the large number of sexual-harassment charges being alleged in the military, and Trump was reminded of a “tweet” that read “What did these geniuses think when they put men and women together?,” and he defended it by saying “Many people say that.” He added that it was necessary to keep the military court system, and then later that we need to establish a military court system, and he did come out forthrightly in favor of imposing consequences for sexual assaults.
Lauer’s now being pilloried by the left for failing to press Trump on many of these statements, but from our never-Trump perspective on the right we’ll grudgingly concede that it would have been awful hard to compress all the questions into a mere half-hour. With about two-thirds of Clinton’s interview spent on the defensive we’ll have to kick our feet against the sand and lower our heads and say it seemed fair enough, all in all, and that the candidates had only themselves to blame.
Trump probably came out of it slightly better than even, poll-wise. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters got the the “take their oil” rhetoric they’ve come to expect, while Trump’s most die-hard opponents will glumly concede that at least he didn’t repeat his talk about the indiscriminate torture of detainees and the killing of their civilian relatives and the neo-con overreach of the past 16 years of American foreign policy, and the sensitive souls of the Huffington Post were even worried that might have seem slightly presidential to those who can’t spare the time to think through the implications of that “take their oil” policy. Most of Trump’s most disdainful opponents won’t bother with that, either, but in any case they’ll not be swayed.
Clinton and Trump will face each other head-to-head later this month, unless Clinton succumbs to fatal illness or Trump finds some scheduling or moderator issue as an excuse to dodge it, depending on which internet rumors you prefer to believer, and that might be more fun. At this point, though, we don’t expect it will be any more reassuring.

— Bud Norman

When It’s All So Awful It All Cancels Out

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee delivered an address on Wednesday about why the presumptive Democratic presidential is obviously unfit for the presidency, and we can’t see how any fair-minded individual might disagree he he made a very persuasive case. We’ve been earnestly pleasing the very same case since way back when the presumptive Republican nominee was saying the the presumptive Democratic nominee would make a great Secretary of State and was contributing to her phony-baloney family foundation and inviting her to his third wedding, and although we’d like to think we did so with more thoroughness and a more Swift-ian wit and less hypocrisy we concede he did a pretty good job of explaining why that awful woman should never be allowed to become president.
With characteristic bluntness he called her a “world-class liar” and the “most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” and convincingly backed up the slurs with a familiar and well-established litany about the past decades of lies and corruption and other assorted scandals that have dogged her for her song long they’re now dismissed as “old news.” The speech would have had to have gone on as long as a Phillip Glass opera to include all the lies and corruption that we’ve dutifully passed along about the presumptive Democratic nominee over the years, so we can’t fault the presumptive Republican nominee for his lack of thoroughness, and we freely acknowledge that his rhetorical bluntness has proved far more effective than our Swift-ian wit, but we do worry that the blatant hypocrisy somehow blunted the message.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s speeches quite rightly denounced the presumptive Democratic nominee’s phony-balony family foundation as an influence-peddling scheme, but his fans will have to console themselves that his own six-figure contribution to that scam and his past boasts of buying political influence elsewhere just goes to show what a shrewd businessman he is. The presumptive Republican nominee quite rightly criticizes the presumptive Democratic nominee’s decision as Secretary of State to overthrow the odious-but-largely-defanged dictatorship of Libya’s dictatorial regime and boasts that he was more prescient about the matter, even though you can still watch the YouTube video of the presumptive Republican nominee urging the same disastrous policy as the presumptive Democratic nominee, and he’s running against her vote for the second Iraq War, falsely claiming that he was against it all along and now staking out the disproved andleft-of-the-presumptive-Democratic-nominee claim that “Bush lied, people died.” The presumptive Republican nominee’s otherwise convincing critiques of his erttwhile friend and new-found enemy’s “re-set” policy with Russia are undermined by how his own staff’s friendly business relationship with the nasty dictatorship there, and his unsettling “bromance” with that country’s dictator, and given how much the average voter pays attention to this stuff in these post-Cold War days we’d call it a draw. Although we pay far more attention to these matters than average voters, our experience of the average voter suggests we’d also have to call it a draw.
A few days ago the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was giving her own big speech about how the presumptive Republican nominee was a world-class liar and a thoroughly corrupt person, and except for the utter hypocrisy of such a world-class liar and thoroughly corrupt person complaining about him we didn’t find anything that fair-minded person wouldn’t agree with. Which is we find ourselves in these hot and sultry summer pre-convention days, and we can only hope for cooler temperatures come fall.

–Bud Norman

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

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

— Bud Norman

A New Year Opens in the Middle East

Unsurprisingly enough, the first big story of the year is coming at us from the Middle East. That constantly troubled region was already troublesome enough for the rest of the world, what with civil wars breaking out in Syria and Libya and Yemen and elsewhere and the refugees spilling into the west in unmanageable numbers and ballistic missiles test being conducted by aspiring nuclear powers and terrorist attacks occurring from Paris to San Bernardino, but now we’ve got that whole Shi’ite versus Sunni thing coming to a head with increased tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Shi’ite versus Sunni thing goes back more than 1,400 years, and so far as we can tell has something do with whether Mohammad’s family or closest friends should have inherited his spiritual authority, but we’ll skip ahead to the present day when Iran is the most powerful Shi’ite country and Saudi Arabia is the most important Sunni country and the old hatreds still persist. The two countries were already fighting proxy wars in Yemen, where Iran-backed rebels had overthrown the Saudi-backed government, and in an even more complicated war in the former portions of Iraq and Syria that are now controlled by the Islamic State, which is Sunni but threateningly crazy even by Saudi standards, where the Saudis’ ineffectual fighters are also opposed by the Iran-backed Syrian regime and their suddenly dominant Russian ally, but now the tensions have again  been significantly increased. After a couple of decades of imprisonment the Saudis chose the date of January Second to execute, by beheading or firing squad, 46 crazy-even-by-Saudi-standards Sunni terrorists and one prominent Shi’ite cleric. That lattermost execution seemed calculated to inflame Shi’ite sensibilities and quickly led to an arson assault on by an angry mob on the Saudi embassy in Iran, which was clearly tolerated by the otherwise repressive Iranian regime. Since then there’s been a suspension of diplomatic ties and talk of outright war, as well as the usual diplomatic dissembling.
It’s enough to roil the international stock markets and recall Iran’s past assaults on its guest embassies and spur conspiracy theories about how the plunging price of oil is provoking a mutually beneficial war, and it’s bound to affect the ongoing politics of the United States of America. Even such harsh critics are ourselves won’t blame the Obama administration for the more-than-1,400-year-old Sunni versus Shi’ite thing, but even the administration’s most determined apologists can’t muster an argument that the past seven years of American foreign policy have worked out well. The retreat from Iraq is looking very much like a mistake, even if America’s entry into the country is so widely regarded as a mistake that even the leading Republican candidates feel obliged to say so, and that awful deal giving Iran $150 billion and no meaningful restraints on the nuclear weapons program they’ve been flouting ever since it went unsigned is looking more awful than ever, the planned retreat from still-troublesome Afghanistan now looks as if it might await another administration or two, and even modern liberalism’s exquisitely well-intentioned guiding principle about abandoning traditional allies and extending open hands to traditional enemies is now clearly called into question.
The Republicans will be challenged to come up with a plausible solution to this more-than-1,400-year-old mess, and we have little confidence they will, but we expect that even the most stridently xenophobic and reactionary policies they propose will seem more plausible than whatever the Democrats can come up with. The Democrats are by now obliged to pretend that whatever ails the world surely has nothing to do Islam, and that whatever more-than-1,400-year-old problems do seem to be occurring can surely be blamed on George W. Bush’s crazy cowboy ways, and that at any rate climate change is the more pressing concern, so we expect they’ll find themselves in a defensive position by Election Day. There’s no telling what will happen between now and then, but another terror attack on the west seems more likely than an outbreak of peace.
We have little regard for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian but not quite so crazy as Islamic State regime of Saudi Arabia, and none whatsoever for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian and soon-to-be-nuclear-armed regime of Iran, and at this point our only rooting interesting in the region is for democratic and humane Israel and the last of the Christians and Yazidis and Zoroastrians and secular agnostics and other religious minorities in that dismal part of the world, and we won’t pretend to have solutions to this more-than-1,400-year-old problem. Something different is obviously called for, however, and one way or another we do expect that will eventually occur.

— Bud Norman