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Another Day of Foreign Intrigues

President Donald Trump’s first foreign tour has produced some notable but hard-to-explain successes, as well as some relatively minor but easy-to-ridicule missteps, but it hasn’t been able to keep what Trump calls “the Russia thing with Trump and Russia” out of the news.
While Trump was making what can be considered an inappropriately upbeat comment in the guest book of Israel’s holocaust museum, The Washington Post was running a story that he had asked national intelligence director Daniel Coats and National Security Agency director Admiral Michael Rogers to deny that there was anything to that whole Russia thing with and Russia. This might not be the evidence of obstruction of justice that so many of Trump’s critics have been hoping for, but it’s still far more inappropriate than what Trump wrote in that guest book, and noisily intruded on what Trump had surely hoped would be a much-needed favorable news cycle.
Trump and his most ardent defenders could have dismissed it as just another fake news smear from the “Washington Compost,” but Tuesday also saw the under-oath congressional testimony of former Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan and the aforementioned Coats and Rogers, and it did nothing to undermine the story. Brennan not only declined to dismiss the whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia but spoke at length about his certainty that Russia did indeed meddle in America’s latest presidential election and his concerns that some people in the Trump campaign were either wittingly or unwittingly involved. Both Coats and Rogers declined to either confirm or deny the Post’s latest big story, citing the now familiar reason that doing so would involve divulging classified information, which is not necessarily damning but not at all what Trump and his most ardent defenders wanted to hear.
That’s not to mention all the other ongoing news about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is still exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and resisting a congressional subpoena for his financial documents, which is not necessarily damning but never looks good, and it invites all the snarkier Trump critics to dredge up video montages of Trump saying that all the Hillary Clinton who staffers who the Fifth were clearly guilty and Flynn himself leading chants of “lock her up” at the Republican convention. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort remains under investigation, too, and The Washington Post is still claiming that some senior-level administration member who was a senior-level campaign staffer is as well, and all the talk is that it’s son-in-law. Fox News has also retracted a story about how a murdered 27-year-old staff at the Democratic National Committee had leaked all those e-mails during the crime, and Sean Hannity also agreed to back off the story at the request of the family, which was the last alternative theory to the idea that the Russians did it.
Trump’s embrace of a youthful Saudi king who so far seems genuinely committed to modernizing his kingdom might yet prove a diplomatic masterstroke, and it’s worth noting that the undeniably Islamophobic Trump seems to have a better rapport with at least the Sunni Muslim world than the embarrassingly Islamophilic President Barack Obama ever did. Given how much more troublesome the Iranian regime has been lately, the inevitable backlash from the Shiites might prove worth the provocation. Despite his clumsy attempts at holding hands with his wife and writing in guest books seems to have reassured the Israelis of America’s continued support for their survival, which is a welcome relief to them and ourselves after all the blatant offenses of the Obama years.
That’s all theoretical for now and very to hard to explain, though, and we expect that Trump’s best explanation will be that it was stupendous and the best and everyone says so. So far he’s handled his foreign adventure well enough, but the remaining itinerary includes plenty of opportunities for missteps, and even if he gets through that the Russia thing with Russia and Trump will likely still be there when he arrives home.

— Bud Norman

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Another Day on a Long Trip

The third day of President Donald Trump’s nine-day foreign voyage went well enough that the more hostile media did their best to change the subject back to all the scandals that he hoped he’d left behind, but there was no keeping anybody’s eyes off it. There were a couple of things the critics could reasonably carp on, and all the more momentous things that can’t help being debated during any presidential visit to Israel, where Trump found himself the day after his royal welcome to Saudi Arabia, which further complicates that already complex debate, but at the end Trump seemed to have muddled through a relatively good news cycle.
Trump donned a yarmulke and went down to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to pay his respects to several millennia of Jewish tradition, becoming the first American president to do so at the much-disputed site while holding the office, and even such staunchly old-fashioned yet neo-conservative and philo-semitic and NeverTrumper Republican goyim as ourselves had to admire the chutzpah of that. Although he’s still backing away from that oft-stated campaign promise to relocate the embassy from Tel Avid to Jerusalem, which was a step too far even for the likes of us, we’re surely not the only ones who are pleased to see the stark difference with President Barack Obama’s anti-Israeli policies. Some of Trump’s supporters on the alt-right are no doubt disappointed, and the more blatantly anti-semitic portions of the left are also offended, but we hope that most of us are rooting for the Israelis rather than the people who have vowed to exterminate them.
Some of those Jew-haters are in Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni nations that Trump had been partying with the two days before, and some are in Iran and the rest of the Shiite sphere that Trump had thundered against, and nobody here or in the Middle East seems to know how that’s all going to work out in the end. We’d like to think that Trump has ingeniously calculated some great deal that will bring about peace in that eternally warring region just as surely as President Andrew Jackson would have averted America’s Civil War, but we just can’t bring ourselves to do it, so for now we’ll take solace in the face that at least he’s not disrespecting the Israelis the way Obama used to do.
Still, there’s no denying the Trump-bashers some fun from such a marathon journey. All our liberal Facebook friends were sharing the footage of Trump noticing that Natanyahu and his wife were holding hands as the walked from the runway and then trying to do the same with his First Lady and having her slap his hand away, and we’ll have to leave it to the more ardent Trump apologists to explain how it doesn’t look bad. Some of Trump’s slighter lapses have been attributed by his communication team to “exhaustion,” which is credible enough excuse on behalf of an obese 70-year-old who eschews any exercise other than a weekly round on a Trump-banded golf course, but the late night wags are entitled to their montages of Trump bragging about his stamina, and it is only three days into a night-day tour.
There are the usual reasonable arguments from both the left and the right about how Trump’s pro-Saudi and pro-Israel and vaguely pro-Russian-yet stridently against aligned-with-Russia Iran stance will eventually work out, but for now we’ll be glad that unlike Obama he’s not apologizing for American influence in the region, even that Iraq war he claimed President George W. Bush lied us into, which even Obama didn’t claim. Things don’t seem any more muddied in the Middle East than before showed up, and even after that admittedly awkward hand-holding incident we’ll hold out out hope it will also continue to forestall the inevitable conflagration. All in all, that’s a pretty darned good news cycle from Trump these days.
Meanwhile, back in the states, the anti-Trump press has been able to take advantage of the dullness of it all by posting some stories hard to deal with for an administration on an ambitious foreign tour. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is defying a congressional subpoena and invoking the Fifth Amendment in the various ongoing investigations into that Russia thing with Trump and Russia, as Trump calls it, and that’s enough to intrude on the front pages. Flynn’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment doesn’t imply any guilt, as his Trump-friendly advocates can rightly say, but Trump’s critics are entitled to gleefully run the the late night comedy montage of Trump saying that his opponents’ use of the Fifth Amendment was the refuge of the guilty.
Sooner or later Trump will return to that temporarily paused news cycle, and although he hasn’t made any glaring missteps on his trip he’s yet to bring any undeniable foreign achievements, so we’d call it a draw so far. The next six days will involve a Pope and G-7 worth or world leaders that Trump has publicly feuded with, and it’s bound to be exhausting, but we’ll hope for the best. Not for Trump’s sake, but the sake of peace, and some respite this awful ongoing news cycle.

— Bud Norman<

A Fairly Smooth Start to Trump’s Trip

President Donald Trump’s first overseas trip is going well enough, so far. There have been none of the glaringly undiplomatic moments that some feared, some begrudging praise for his speech in Saudi Arabia from the erstwhile Republican foreign policy establishment, and it managed to push all those stories about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia off the front pages and top-of-the-hour reports for a weekend.
No president goes to the Middle East and without provoking some controversy, of course, and Trump was never going to be an exception to that rule. There was some relatively minor quibbling about his swaying along with an all-male sword dance that the Saudis like to do, as well as the usual nitpicking about protocol. Although the left was obliged to praise the First Lady and First Daughter for refusing to cover their hair according to local custom, they also came up with the inevitable past “tweets” by Trump criticizing Democratic visitors for doing the same. The right was mightily pleased that Trump didn’t bow to the Saudi king, as President Barack Obama was accused of doing when he stooped a bit too low to shake hands with the much shorter monarch, but the left delighted in pictures of Trump also leaning a bit to accept a golden medallion from his relatively diminutive host.
There are also the more substantive controversies about more substantive matters, of course. A much-ballyhooed speech to an audience that included several heads of Islamic states managed to avoid the “Islam hates us” and “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on” rhetoric, which was a relief to to his critics on the left but a disappoint to some of his supporters on the right. The speech was quite clear in its opposition to Iran’s regional and global ambitions, which played well on the right and especially well with his Sunni audience, but naturally upset those on the left that had grown accustomed to Obama’s Shiite tilt, and was worrisome to the centrist types who thinks it’s best that America not take either side in the bloody millennia-and-a-half-year-old schism. There was no mention of human rights in the speech, and instead a clear disclaimer that Trump had no intention of telling anyone how to deal with their internal affairs, which these days wins both praise and criticism from certain sections of both sides of the aisle.
The visit also saw the signing of a $110 billion defense deal with the Saudis for some very high-tech weaponry, but that was pretty much the same deal that the Obama administration had negotiated, so no one in either party seemed to have much to say about that. There was also some high-brow discussion about how Trump’s apparent support for authoritarian regimes so long as they suppress terrorism will address the root causes of terrorism, which are thought to include U.S.-backed authoritarian regimes suppressing all sorts of needed reform movements, but in all fairness no one on either the right or left or anywhere in between seems to have figured out what the hell is going on.
Trump’s trip moves on to Israel and the Vatican and Belgium and a G-7 meeting full of wary world leaders before he gets home, so there’s still plenty of potential for something glaringly undiplomatic to happen, but he’s got figure it’s going pretty well so far. If he can keep his thumbs away from a “twitter” machine he might even be able to keep that Russia thing with Trump and Russia on the inside pages and bottom-of-the-hour updates for a whole week, with the inevitable controversies being more easily ignored.

— Bud Norman

What Could Go Wrong?

President Donald Trump is now embarking on his first foreign trip since taking office, and we expect he’ll be glad to get out of the country. He’s spent the week griping to the graduates of the Coast Guard Academy that he’s been the most unfairly treated politician in all history, “tweeting” claims that the ongoing investigations into his campaign’s possible role in Russia’s election meddling are a “witch hunt,” and testily denying everything to a pesky pack of the press, so at least he’ll be able to change the subject for a while.
On the other hand, the conversation might well take another controversial turn or two before the nine-long-days trip is over. The celebrity apprentice president has already provoked controversies in his dealings with such friendly countries as Australia and Germany, which takes some doing, and the itinerary for his trip includes some far trickier encounters.
The tour starts out in Saudia Arabia, where the royal family has reportedly prepared to roll out $68 million worth of red carpet, which should be enough to satisfy even Trump’s sense of grandeur. So far Trump has been saying everything the Saudis want to hear about arms deals and their war in Yemen and other and other deals that are ┬ádear to their hearts, but he’s also the guy who called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States, and until recently he was a vociferous critic of the country, and his planned speech on Islamic radicalism will require more carefully diplomatic language than Trump is accustomed to using. A visit to Saudi Arabia is fraught with peril for even the most seasoned presidents, and Trump is seemingly still starting a learning curve.
The next planned stop is in Israel, which is always tricky. Trump has long been outspokenly supportive of the Jewish state, and enjoyed a friendly relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he’s lately abandoned his campaign promise to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and reportedly blabbed some top-secrets shared by the Israelis to the Russians, and has long habit of making stereotypical Jewish jokes in public. His daughter and son-in-law are both Jewish, which provides some cover for such japes, but we expect his aides will be nervous for the duration of the visit.
After that Trump moves on to Italy and the vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis. Back in the campaign the Pope opined that Trump’s proposed wall along the border with Mexico wasn’t consistent with Christian values, Trump replied with characteristic bluntness that the Pope was “disgraceful” to say so, but both men are promising a friendlier conversation when they meet face to face. Absent any inappropriate jokes about a priest and a Rabbi and a Presbyterian minister walking in to a bar it seems a safe enough stop.
Next up is Belgium, where he’s scheduled to meet the king and queen and Prime Minister, and although they probably won’t be spending $68 million for the chat that should go fine. He’s also scheduled to meet the newly elected President of France, after Trump implicitly endorsed his Vichy-linked opponent in the recent French vote, as well as the president of the European Union, an institution both Trump and that Vichy-linked opponent have long outspokenly criticized, so that might also require more diplomatic language than Trump is used to using. There’s another meeting scheduled with the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Trump has lately concluded is not “obsolete,” as he frequently described it during the campaign, but he’s still grousing that its members are mostly a bunch of freeloading deadbeats, so there’s no telling how that might go.
Trump’s European trip then returns again to Italy, where he’ll take his place along the leaders of the G7 nations, and we hope he won’t mind sharing the stage with all of them. All those countries have pretty pesky presses of their own, though, and the American media will also be on hand to egg them on, and at that point the conversation might well take any number of controversial turns.
There’s always a chance Trump will return home with a lot of brand new best friends, and that the media won’t find anything to criticize, but Trump being Trump and the media being the media that’s not the way to bet.

— Bud Norman

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The Penultimate Day of a Dreary Eight Years

Today is President Barack Obama’s last full day in office, and it’s been a long wait. We were loudly grousing about the man back when he was first elected on a waft of hope that he was some sort of messiah, we groused again when he ran re-election on the argument that his opponent was some sort of devil, we’ve been grousing ever since, and we feel obliged to grouse once again as he leaves office with unaccountably high approval ratings.
Obama’s more die-hard admirers have already unleashed newspaper serials and hour-long video tributes and full-length hardcover books explaining how great he was, almost as great as promised back in the days when he was talking about how sea levels would fall and the national debt would decline and all that unpleasantness with Islam and the rest of the world would surely be worked out, but the case is hard to make at the moment when Donald Trump is about to be inaugurated as president.
All the testimonials point out how very bad the economy was when Obama took office, and how not -so-bad it is upon his departure, but we’ve paid enough attention that we’re not impressed. The economy was indeed in a deep recession starting some four or five months before Obama was inaugurated, but recessions always end and this was officially over before Obama could get his literally more-than-a-trillion-dollar “stimulus package” passed, and despite all the spending that had been added on top of the literally-more-than-a-trillion dollar Troubled Asset Relief Program that Obama and pretty much everyone else from both parties voted for the recovery has been the weakest on post-war record, and although the headline unemployment rate looks pretty good the broader measure that includes part-timers and the unemployed and those out of the workforce and is buried deep in story hasn’t fully yet fully recovered. Massive new regulations for the financial industry and a major government power grab of the health care sector almost certainly had something to do with the sluggishness, and what growth did occur can largely be attributed to an oil boom that Obama tried to thwart. There was also a stock market boom, but that was because the Federal Reserve kept pumping money that had nowhere to go but the stock market, where it naturally wound up exacerbating all that economic inequality that Obama had vowed to end with his tax hikes, and although he has Bill Clinton’s luck that the bubble won’t burst until the next administration we’re not counting it as a major accomplishment.
Accomplishments are even harder to find in Obama’s foreign policy, although that doesn’t stop his admirers from trying. No one dares say that Obama’s Libyan adventure or that “red line” he in drew in the Syrian sand have worked out at all, and his past “reset” appeasement of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is suddenly unfashionable in liberal circles, but they do try to cast the deal with Iran where we give them billions of dollars and they sort of pretend not to be building a nuclear bomb as a breakthrough victory. The decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq helped win Obama re-election, and after four years it gets occasional mention, although even his most ardent admirers must admit there have been unhappy consequences. Obama’s efforts on behalf of the European Union and Israel’s more liberal political parties and Latin America’s more Marxist types have not proved fruitful, China and Russia and Iran and all the usual troublemakers are more troublesome than they were eight years, and we can’t think of any of international relationships that have been improved. His most ardent admirers point to his good intentions, which we’ll conceded for the sake of argument, but the only thing that good intentions wins is a Nobel Peace Prize.
All the promises of a post-racial and post-partisan and altogether more tolerant society have also proved hollow. The past eight years of attempts to impose racial quotas on law enforcement and school discipline have made life more dangerous for many black Americans and understandably annoyed a lot of the white ones, Obama’s declared belief that politics is a knife fight and the Democrats should bring a gun and the Republicans can come along for the ride so long as they sit in the back of the bus because “I won” has heightened partisan acrimony, and although we’ve got the same sex marriages that Obama claimed to oppose in both of his runs he’s fueling the intolerance for anyone who doesn’t want to bake a cake for the ceremonies.
Although it’s good to at long last see it all come to an end after today, we expect the effects to linger for a while. The next president has already promised a more-than-a-trillion-dollars stimulus package, plenty more market interventions, health insurance for everybody that’s going to be cheaper and better than what was promised in Obamacare, and no messing around with those Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid entitlements that are the main drivers of the national debt. So far Trump’s Russian policies make Obama’s seem downright Truman-esque, and our erstwhile allies in Europe are as alarmed as ourselves, and although Trump also seems a friend of Israel we have no idea what he has in mind for the rest of the Middle East. As far as that hyper-partisan atmosphere of guns and knives and relegating enemies to the back of the bus and the might of an electoral victory making right, we see little improvement ahead.
We’ve already been grousing about Trump for more than a year now, and expect to do so for another four years or more, but we’ll always attribute some share of the blame to Obama. Those who cheered on Obama’s racialist and partisan and intolerant rhetoric should have known what they were bound to provoke, and those who cheered on the executive actions and bureaucratic harassment of political enemies are about to find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end, and despite all promises about making America great again none of us are likely to find out it works out any better than the Obama administration’s blather about hope and change.

— Bud Norman

Taking In-Coming From the Out-Going

In the long stretch between Election Day and Inauguration Day the Obama years have overlapped with the Trump years, and of course that is not going well. Two such oversized egos as President Barack Obama and president-elect Donald Trump, both with such undersized regard for the longstanding norms of the American republic, were never going to amicably share such a drawn-out moment in our recently rancorous history.
The pair had a somewhat promising photo-opportunity together when they met in the White House just after the election, although most of the shots showed them both looking a clearly stunned and unsettled by the results, and they both described the long conversation as cordial and said all the reassuring things that outgoing and incoming presidents always say. Since then, however, things have predictably deteriorated. Obama gave a widely publicized interview with an old friend in which he speculated that he could have a won a third if only the Constitution had allowed, which is the kind of thing that two-term presidents have traditionally said only in chats with old friends that aren’t so widely publicized, and Trump responded with a petulant “tweet” saying “I SAY NO WAY!,” which is entirely unprecedented in presidential history.
Obama was then at Pearl Harbor for a somber World War II memorial ceremony with the Japanese Prime Minister, where his speech included that “It is here we remember that even when hatred burns the hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is the most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward; we must we much resist the urge to demonize others,” which can arguably be interpreted as a criticism of the incoming president, which is indeed a departure from tradition for out-going presidents. Trump certainly seemed to take those arguably anodyne phrases personally, as he quickly “tweeted” in response that “Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition — NOT!,” which is also well outside the usual norms of presidential rhetoric.
So far both sides are claiming all the re-hiring and re-painting and re-assignments of parking spaces that go with any old presidential transition are nonetheless proceeding smoothly, along with the gold-plating of the toilets and the skimpier uniforms for the household staff and whatever else is required for this particular presidential transition, but the rift has already had consequences more significant than hurt feelings. Obama has unleashed such a last-month torrent of regulations that Trump will be hard-pressed and much-hassled to un-do them all, and Trump is already talking deals with the long line of companies that have threatened to move jobs out of the United States. One can only imagine what sorts of presidential pardons will be issued between now and the still-distant Inauguration Day by the out-going president, and what the president-elect will have to “tweet” about it, but one of the in-coming president’s most trusted advisors is already advising an entirely unprecedented and vastly more pervasive use of the president’s pardon powers. Obama has ordered retaliation for Russia’s internet hackings and other meddling in the election, which the Central Intelligence Agency and other officials confirm, but Trump continues to deny it ever happens and told the press that “I think we should get on with our lives” in any case.
The two are also clashing over the very serious matters of Israel’s security and the rest of that thorny Middle Eastern situation. After nearly eight years of diplomatic and rhetorical slights against Israel, and a long effort to negotiate a very accommodating deal with with the Iranian apocalyptic suicide cult that has vowed to build nuclear missiles to wipe out the Jewish state, Obama has concluded his time in office by allowing the United Nations to pass a resolution condemning the building of housing for Jewish Israelis in some disputed territories. The disputes regarding those territories are complicated, and to be fair Obama has also added $34 billion worth of state-of-the-art American weaponry to Israel’s arsenal during his administration, but there’s a lengthy case to be made that Obama’s legacy is a disgraceful backstabbing of our only modern and democratic and mostly sane friend in one of the world’s worst but most unavoidable neighborhoods.
Trump tried to fit his argument against the move into a “tweet,” and came up with “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” Although poorly punctuated and otherwise quite unprecedented in the history of presidential rhetoric, we’ll concede it does contain a certain kernel of truth. There is a lengthy case to be against the United Nations in general and its treatment of Israel in particular, and we’ve made it at length here over the years, but when you try to boil it compress it into 140 characters concluding with “So sad!” you wind up calling into question every international agreement that the United States has ever negotiated through the United Nations, which is not something an in-coming president should be doing. The past many millennia of human history show that successful diplomacy requires a certain precision of language, and that punctuation is also important, and the sooner the president-elect realizes this the better.
Neither man has proved himself worthy of the high office they momentarily seem to share, and their clash of oversized egos has been a tawdry spectacle. We’re supposed to take sides, so we’ll stick with the old norms of the American republic.

— Bud Norman

An Awful Deal Gets More Awful Yet

You might have forgotten about that awful deal that President Barack Obama struck last year with Iran’s apocalyptic suicide cult of a government over its nuclear weapons program, as Donald J. Trump hasn’t “tweeted” anything about it lately, but along with all the other things to worry about it continues to get more awful by the day.
Iran conducted yet another inter-continental ballistic missile test yesterday, launching a couple of Koranic-named rockets inscribed with “Israel should be wiped off the earth,” but we are assured this is no big deal. While the administration’s spokesmen will state with requisite diplomacy that the tests are “provocative,” they quickly add that such acts do not violate the terms of their deal, which seems to us to prove how very awful that deal is. The International Atomic Energy Agency won’t say that Iran is in violation of any international agreements, then quickly adds that the side agreements they agreed to with both the United States and Iran forbid them from revealing any Iranian violations of whatever was more-or-less agreed upon but not actually signed by anybody, which to us seems to make the more-or-less deal seem even more awful yet. Throw in that $150 billion that Iran is getting out out the deal, and the current Secretary of State’s under-oath admission that some of it’s going into Iran’s ongoing terrorist networks, and his complaint during the last round of missile tests that “they’re not supposed to be doing that,” and one shudders to think how very apocalyptically this might all turn out.
The deal was supposed to be Obama’s foreign policy legacy, just as his Obamacare legislation was supposed to be what he would be remembered for on the domestic side, and to his and the country’s and the entire world’s misfortune both suppositions will likely prove true. We were promised that the deal would verifiably prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons or the inter-continental ballistic missiles that make them especially dangerous and would quell that nation’s religious supremacist bellicosity, just as we were promised that everyone would have health coverage and everyone’s health care costs would go down by an average of $2,500 a year, but instead Iran seems to be building inter-continental missiles that are really only useful delivering nuclear warheads for some reason or another that the IAEA can’t comment on and the “death to America” rhetoric has lately seemed ramped up and the potential consequences make a couple-grand-and-a-half seem insignificant and the prospects of health care for everyone remote. As we contemplate our sorry choices for a successor to Obama, it is worth remembering how very awful he has been.
Even the sorry choices we choose from are likely to do better, as former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and corrupt foundation-scammer Hillary Clinton is arguing for renewed sanctions and can plausibly point to current Secretary of State John Kerry as proof that she’s only the second-worst Secretary of State ever, and rival self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spent some time on a Stalinist kibbutz in Israel and might have some reluctance to let it be wiped off the earth, and of course the Republicans are taking a stronger stand, although the front-runner has lately been talking about neutrality toward Israel and seems to regard the whole Middle East as another real-estate deal where Israel might wind up the poor widow with the house where he wants to build a parking lot for his casino. More hopefully, Iran itself might yet save us from this awful deal.
The Iranian government has lately been gloating that it never did sign anything with the Great Satan, by which they don’t mean just Obama, but the rest of us as well, and that if the United States considers tests of inter-continental missiles named for Koranic verses and inscribed with the slogan “Israel should be wiped off the earth” so much as “provocative” they might just walk away. The Obama administration would likely go running after them with further concessions to make the deal even more awful, if possible, but if the Iranians play it out long enough for a long-shot scenario to develop on our awful political scene there might be some hope.

— Bud Norman

Happy Hanukkah, and Hold the Politics

Although we are not at all Jewish, about three-fourths of our Bible is Old Testament and we have an abiding respect for both Judaism and Jews. If we were to host a Hanukkah party, therefore, we would take care not to turn it into an anti-Israel rally. Apparently the Obama administration has different notions of how to celebrate the holiday.
Last Wednesday’s began well enough with President Barack Obama cheerily offering some weak jokes and mostly anodyne comments, although we’re not sure if the part about the “unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States” was meant as a joke and the part about freedom of religion probably was meant to imply something about the ongoing controversy regarding Muslim immigration. He then turned the microphone over to Israel President Reuven Rivlin, who is not to be confused with the more outspoken and consequential Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he also told a couple of jokes and spoke about freedom of religion and did some serious sucking up to Obama. It was all quite convivial and mostly uncontroversial, but then Rabbi Susan Talve of St. Louis seized the floor and took things in a very different direction.
Talve is a prominent member of the group T’ruah, which urges boycotts and divestment and sanctions against Israel, has been involved in the “Black Lives Matter” protests that have largely destroyed a St. Louis suburb because of false claims about a police shooting there, and there’s no doubt that’s why she chosen for the honor of lighting the White House menorah. Instead of speaking about the religious meaning of the ritual, or the miracle it represents, or even the current relevance of the Maccabees’ brave struggle against Syrian invaders, chose to spew a litany of leftist tropes about everything from gun control to toxic waste to transgender rights, and of course spent most of time on “justice for Palestine,” complete with shouts of “Ins’Allah,” which is Arabic for “Allah willing,” and of course a plea to take in as many refugees from the Syria that attacked the Maccabees. There was no mention of God or scripture, nothing about the faith that was being celebrated, and certainly no acknowledgment that the Jewish homeland is still constantly threatened with annihilation.
Talve’s tirade was widely criticized by many Jews, even some who agree with her views when they are expressed at a more secular forum, but we would hope that all people of faith will share their indignation. The insult to Jewish people was deliberate and gratuitous, just as Obama’s choice of the National Prayer Breakfast to tell Christians “not to get on their high horse” about the latest Islamic outrages because of what happened in the long ago Crusades to repel Islamic imperialism was a also a deliberate and gratuitous insult. One cannot imagine Obama doing any such thing at the annual Ramadan and Eid al-Hada dinners he hosts, but otherwise he seems to believe there should be no sacred space where politics cannot intrude. Politics is all that modern liberalism holds sacred, and that threatens all people of faith.

Most of our Jewish friends are quite political, usually in ways that provoke friendly arguments, but we’ll leave those for later and wish you a most happy Hanukkah, and pray for the continued existence of Jewish homeland.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the News

We woke up fully resolved to write about something other than radical Islamic terrorism or Donald Trump, but the day’s news hasn’t been at all cooperative. A thorough reading of our vast and eclectic news sources yielded little mention of anything else, not even any of the collegiate craziness that has lately provided us a bemusing diversion, and except for a pleasant stroll with the folks through the impressive “Illuminations” Christmas display at our city’s nearby botanical garden there was, as usual, nothing worth mentioning in our personal life, so we are left with nothing but a few stray comments about the filler items we encountered.
There was a double satisfaction in reading that former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer treatment is coming along well. Although we found little to like in Carter’s presidency, or his post-presidency, we’re not the sorts of internet trolls who wish ill on our political adversaries. The good news of his apparent recovery is even further sweetened by the fact it’s due to medicines and medical techniques invented in Israel, a very fine nation that Carter has described as an “apartheid state” and has urged sanctions against and has never been a friend to. None of the reporters at Carter’s press conference were impolite enough to note the irony, but we would have relished the opportunity to ask if he would have preferred a Palestinian procedure.
All well-informed citizens these days are regular readers of the indispensable Drudge Report, which has lately been breathlessly linking to the numerous stories about that pornographic film actor who’s been accused of rape by at least three of his female co-stars, which has some prurient interest. We’re not au courant on the current skin flick scene, and are admittedly unfamiliar with the work of James Deen, who is clearly intended to be confused with the broodingly handsome James Dean of an earlier and more innocent era of American cinema, but apparently his on-screen persona was that of the “boy next door,” and so far as we can tell that makes the allegations against him all the more shocking. Somehow we are not all shocked that a porn star, even the one next door, might turn out to be a sleaze, and as we’re not the sort to wish ill on any victims he might prove to have preyed on we will instead offer the advice they seek other employment opportunities.
┬áThere was some good news from Venezuela, of all places, where the opposition to socialist President Nicolas Maduro won a Congressional majority, even if Maduro was promising ahead of the results that “the revolution will continue.” The revolution has quite literally reduced the population to knife-fighting over the last scraps of toilet paper in that unfortunate country, and it seems likely to get even uglier, but there’s now hope for some satisfactory resolution and in any case the American press will be preoccupied with damning Trump and helping out whichever socialist the Democrats might nominate.
Of course there were also the elections in France, where the frankly nationalist National Front party was the big winner, but that’s all about radical Islamic terrorism and leads inevitably to a discussion of Donald Trump, and we’re still fully resolved not write about any of that. If by any chance you’re in the Riverside neighborhood of Wichita during this holiday season we highly recommend a leisurely stroll through Botanica’s “Illuminations,” and invite you to drop by afterwards, as we’re just a few blocks away, but otherwise we have nothing to offer but hope for a better news cycle today.

— Bud Norman

Three Speeches Worth Reading

The United Nations has been celebrating its 70th year of existence with a week-long marathon of orations by world leaders. Most of it has been as pointless as the United Nations itself, but three of the speeches merit some consideration.
The first was by President of the United States Barack Obama, and it’s a remarkably mushy piece of work. He starts with the obligatory genuflections to the UN’s high ideals, segues into some blather about how “five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized and people are once again being lifted out of poverty,” and he somehow keeps a straight face throughout. The rest is mostly a similarly silly defense of his foreign policy.
He boasts that “Together we’ve also worked to end a decade of war,” by which he means his unilateral retreat of all American troops from Iraq. That another war has since started up as a result of that decision, which is now the main topic of conversation at the UN and elsewhere, goes unmentioned until later. He also boasts that we will soon have affected a unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan, “having its mission of dismantling the core of al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11,” and he sounded quite confident that will work out just as well. There are further boasts of “transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” and he still kept that straight face while asserting that “As a result of this work and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago.” He humbly acknowledges that there’s still an awful lot of terrorism going on, and that core of al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 “does pose threats to governments and diplomats, businesses and civilians all across the globe,” but with all the progress he’s made in releasing captured terrorists he doesn’t seem very concerned.
Eventually Obama does get around to that war that’s presently going on in Syria and Iraq and other jurisdictions of the Middle East, complete with beheadings and crucifixions and chemical weapons attacks and Russian anti-aircraft equipment that seems an odd thing to have against a terrorist army lacking an air force, and is now causing an invasion of Europe by hundreds of thousands potentially millions “refugees” from even the jurisdictions that aren’t under fire, and he’s willing to concede that “The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge.” His dismissal of the beheading and crucifying Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism and his past praise of the Syrian dictator as a “reformer” presumably occurred before that early on date when international community recognized the stakes.
We also note he’s still insisting that “the situation spiraled into civil war” as “many retreated to their sectarian identities” of “Alawites and Sunni, Christian and Kurd,” as if each of those groups shared the same blame. Such moral equivalency is perhaps required at a United Nations assembly, at least if you’re a properly educated liberal such as Obama, but the world is full of more practical people who will recognize that it’s nonsense. The Christians of Syria and Iraq and the rest of the Middle East have mainly concerned themselves for civilizational survival for the past 1,300 years or so, with few resources to make trouble even if they were inclined to do so, and the reasonable-by-Middle-Eastern-standards Kurds have been in pretty much the same situation. Neither group has received any useful military benefits from either Obama or that international coalition he keeps talking about, and apparently they can’t even count on any rhetorical support.
There was some sterner talk, as well. Obama insisted on an international ban on the use of chemical weapons in the multi-sided war, and actually boasted that “When I stated my willingness to to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly.” Neither did he ever act on it, of course, but he seems proud to note that the UN’s Security Council never passed a resolution about it. Without that credible threat of military force an international ban on chemical weapons will likely be as useful as that “No Gun Zone” sign posted on the campus of the latest mass murder, but Obama is pleased to say that “However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been for a diplomatic resolution to this issue.” He seemed to sincerely believe that Putin has helped to rid his Syrian allies of their chemical weapons arsenal, and that both parties can be fully trusted.
There was further stern talk about the use of “all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region,” and ensuring the free flow of oil from the region, and dismantling terror groups, and then he launched into that awful deal with the Iranians that seems to allow them to cheat their way to a nuclear bomb while a $150 billion check for more support of terrorism and “death to America” rallies. This included the moral equivalence between Iran’s hostage-taking, terrorism, war-mongering, threats of genocide against the Israelis, brutal suppression of its own people, and the fact that “Iranians have long complained of a U.S. history of interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing the Iranian government during the Cold War.” That America’s role in overthrowing an domestically unpopular Iranian government that was almost as brutal as as that unfortunate country’s current one has long been overstated is of no matter, of course, so long as Obama looks better than his country.
The speech was delivered with that grandiloquently upturned chin and in that famously stentorian Obama baritone, and thus sounded a lot better than it looks on paper, so it got the usual rave reviews in the American media. How it played with the international audience, which has gotten harder to please over the past five years, is less clear. The applause wasn’t nearly so rapturous as in the past, and we suspect they mostly heard the part about Obama’s preference for a diplomatic resolution and his admissions of America’s past sins and how the Christians and Kurds are as guilty as the rest.
Worse yet, the speech was shortly followed by a far more believably stern oration by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama’s supposed partner in shutting down the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program also opened with the obligatory genuflections to the UN, but in his case he was proud to say it all started at the Yalta Conference where his Soviet predecessors steamrolled the haplessly idealistic Roosevelt administration into ceding eastern Europe to communist rule and establishing the Security Council so that Russia could veto anything that might promote liberty and democracy. He generously acknowledged that the other Security Council members didn’t always agree with Russia, but he didn’t offer any apologies. Instead he launched into a history lesson, saying “We all know that after the Cold War, a single center of domination emerged in the world,” and explaining that “those who found themselves at the top of that pyramid were tempted to think that if we are so strong and exceptional then we know better than anyone what to do and why at all should we reckon with the UN, which instead of automatically authorizing and legitimizing necessary actions often creates obstacles or, in other words, ‘stands in the way.'”
So far the speech seems written to defy any possible rebuttal by Obama, who might very well have written the speech himself. Putin goes on to say that America’s actions as the lone superpower are entirely responsible for the 1,300-year-old Islamist jihads that have been heating up at least since the Algerian revolution in ’50s, and that also sounds a lot like any of Obama’s stump speeches since at least the ’08 election. The Russian president goes on to say that Russia is therefore obliged to come to the world’s rescue by crushing the Islamist State and protecting the Assad regime and enhancing the power of its Iranian patron and bringing the former American protector of Iraq under its influence, much as Mother Russia once single-handedly saved the world from Naziism, and so we should all be grateful the Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis that is imposing its will on the Middle East. We’re hard-pressed to think how Obama might refute that, but we’re confident he would prefer it involve a diplomatic resolution.
Obama did talk about how Russia’s aggressions in the Middle East as well as Ukraine and other sections of its former Soviet empire have resulted in financial problems, defections, and some international opprobrium, but Putin doesn’t seem to care much about any of that. If he’s been dealt as a weak hand as Obama insists at least he’s been playing it better than Obama’s flush of bleeding hearts, and although it might not work at the end of that long arc of history that Obama likes to say is always bending toward justice he’s likely to reap the benefits until then, and nothing in Putin’s speech left any doubt that he intended to continues his policies with or without the benefit of a diplomatic solution.
The speech probably played well in the Russian press, which is almost as dutiful to its president as its American counterparts, and it certainly made an impression on its intended international audience. Although the applause was perfunctory, the audience could not doubt that Putin meant every word of it.
Nor could anyone doubt a singe word of an even sterner speech by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The former special forces fighter didn’t bother with the obligatory genuflections to the UN’s high ideals, and instead noted the many times that the organization was “obsessively hostile towards Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.” After punctuating this with a long, silent stare at the body’s worst anti-Semites, Netanyahu then launched into a blistering denunciation of the west’s capitulatory deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons saying, “This deal doesn’t make peace more likely. By fueling Iran’s aggressions with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely.” He pointed out that since the framework of the deal was agreed upon Iran has sent more fighters to Syria to supports its regime, shipped tons of weapons and ammunition to Houthi rebels in Yemen, threatened the government of Jordan, increased its efforts on behalf of Hamas and Hezbollah in its terror wars against Israel and Lebanon, continued its chants of “Death to America,” and reiterated its desire to annihilate Israel. There’s no refuting any of this, and moral equivalences with Israel and its erstwhile allies in the west are hard to make, so we expect that both Obama and Putin were glad they didn’t have to follow this speech.
Rather than making apologies for his country, Netanyahu vowed to defend it. He vowed that Israel will continue to defend itself against any attacks from Syria, and to prevent the flow of arms through Syria to Hezbollah, and to do whatever is required to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Although he was not specific about that third promise, it was strongly implied that whatever is required might be required soon. The language was blunt, and poetic only when Netanyahu spoke of the challenges the Jewish people have faced before and are ready to face to again, but at no point did it leave room for doubt.
Even the most eloquent speeches, no matter how grandiloquently upturned the chin or stentorian the baritone delivery, are only useful to the extent that speaker means it. We have no doubt that Putin and Netanyahu mean what they say, so all that talk about the UN’s high ideals and the hope of a diplomatic resolution is quite unconvincing.

— Bud Norman