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Hoping for the Best, Contemplating the Worst

President Donald Trump and top officials from his administration are warning that time is running out for a peaceful solution to North Korea’s recent provocations, which might very well be the best thing to be saying, but there’s no denying that every other sort of solution will be very bad. Accepting the fact of the nutcase North Korean dictatorship as a nuclear power with intercontinental ballistic capabilities is also an intolerable outcome, though, and there’s no denying that past efforts at a more conciliatory diplomacy have failed to prevent the North Koreans from recent tests of a nuclear bomb capable of destroying a major city and missiles lobbed over Japanese air space that could reach American territory.
Tough talk hasn’t proved any more effective over the past many decades of dealings with the nutcase North Korean dictatorships, and has failed spectacularly in recent weeks, with their latest and most worrisome round of tests coming after Trump threatened “fire and fury like no one has ever seen” in case of any further provocations, but it might best to keep it up. One fact that the nutcase North Korean dictatorship has to accept is the fact that if it does come down to a nuclear war there won’t be much of North Korea left, as a devastating response to a nuclear attack against the United States has been American policy through every president since Truman, and one this administration might actually relish implementing, and that’s a strong hand to play with even the most nutcase dictators.
As United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who has proved quite adept at the job, put it in an interview with the Cable News Networks’ “State of the Union” program on Sunday, “If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or its allies, North Korea will be destroyed.” She was quick to add that “None of us want that. None of us want war. But we also have to look at the fact that we are dealing with someone who is being reckless, irresponsible and is continuing to give threats not only to the United States but to all of its allies.” Which strikes us as some very savvy diplomatic speech. It warns of the dire consequences of making America defend itself or its allies, leaves carefully unsaid what level of provocation would provoke that result, signals a willingness to continue negotiations on reasonable terms, and allows room for peaceful and tolerable solution.
National security advisor H.R. McMaster, a lieutenant Army general who served admirably in three wars and holds a doctorate in American history and is regarded by even the mainstream press as one of the wise hands of the Trump administration, took a similarly strong but precisely worded stand on the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” program, saying of the nutcase North Korean dictator that “He’s going to have to give up his nuclear weapons,” noting the president has been very clear about that, but quickly adding “all options are on the table.” Softly spoken but carrying the aforementioned big stick, with a metaphorical also dangled, and a resume to back up both the tough talk and the clear yearning for a peaceful solution, it also seemed as right a diplomatic statement as we could think of.
Trump himself spent the morning “tweeting,” including an apparently newsworthy video of of the president hitting a golf ball and former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton being knocked down by it, which Trump’s fans reportedly found hilarious, but he also “tweeted” a couple of taunts against the nutcase North Korean dictator. One boasted that the United Nations sanctions on North Korea had led to “gas lines,” and another nicknamed the nutcase dictator “Rocket Man.” We don’t doubt that the recent sanctions have hindered North Korea’s economy, but at this point it’s a rare North Korean who owns an automobile and the rest are pretty much accustomed to abject poverty, and it’s clear that nutcase dictator doesn’t care much about any of that. As for that “Rocket Man” zinger, we’re also doubtful that the nutcase dictator can be brought by down by a nickname the same way “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and “Little” Marco Rubio and “Crooked” Clinton were. It’s not at all the polished diplomatic speech we’re accustomed to, but we’ll hold out faint hope it’s so crazy it just might work.
If it doesn’t, and things comes to worst, we’ll trust that America still stands with or without Guam or San Diego and the nutcase North Korean dictatorship doesn’t exist at all, and hope that the damage to everyone is as limited as possible. The best case scenarios involve civilian casualties not seen since the darkest days of the World War II in Seoul, South Korea’s capital and most populous city, and the death toll in North Korea’s capital and most populous city of Pyongyan even worse, and maybe even the nutcase North Korean dictator getting a missile launched against Japan’s capital and most populous city, and perhaps China or the Russians or various other far more formidable nuclear powers getting involved.
Those worst-case scenarios seem unlikely, given that most of the parties involved aren’t nutcase dictatorships, and China has already stated that it won’t stop us from nuking North Korea if North Korea nukes us first, and Haley got both China and Russia on board with those UN sanctions, but there’s no denying it remains a worrisome situation. Should the United States’ intelligence community reach a consensus solution with high a degree of confidence that the nutcase North Korean dictator was about to launch a nuclear attack on America or one of it’s allies the right thing to do might very well be a pre-emptive attack, and there would be some very sound diplomatic explanations for that that, but we can’t shake a nervous feeling about Trump and his “tweets.” He’s told the world that the United States’ intelligence community is probably wrong about Russia’s meddling in the past election and was surely wrong about the imminent threat posed by the nutcase Iraqi dictator’s weapons of mass destruction, and that an American president had lied about it to justify a pre-emptive war, and there’s no telling what either China or Russia might make of that.
We hold out hope and fervent prayers that it all comes to some peaceful and tolerable solution, and aren’t worried by the more measured tough talk from those top administration officials, and feel reassured by those wise old hands who show up on the Sunday morning news talk shows. That dictator in North Korea strikes us as a real nutcase, though, and no matter what wise counsel America finds he’s going to have to some say in how it turns out.

— Bud Norman

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A Bad Weekend in Europe

All the president’s men and women took to the Sunday news shows to talk up his dramatic trip to Europe, with breathless accounts of triumphs we very much wanted to believe, but from our perspective it seemed as slapstick a comedy as Chevy Chase taking the Griswold family on “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.”
The trip began promisingly enough in Poland, where President Donald Trump delivered an uncharacteristically coherent speech before a large and adoring crowd. In his address Trump robustly urged Poland to defend western civilization’s unique values against its enemies, specifically cited the revanchist Russian government’s recent intrusions into Ukraine and other parts of its former Soviet Union empire as an example, and explicitly reiterated America’s Article Five commitment in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to back it up, which had been conspicuously omitted from his last speech in Europe. Even the most Trump-wary conservative commentators effusively praised the speech, which they found a welcome change from the apologetically morally-relativistic and multi-culturalist pablum that President Barack Obama had spewed to foreign audiences over his eight years.
We probably typed as many column inches of annoyance as any of those commentators during Obama’s interminable time in office, and are still as annoyed as any Pole or Czech about him canceling the missile defense deal his predecessor had negotiated with Poland and the Czech Republic as part of his ridiculous “re-set” effort with the Russkies, so we’ll concede that Trump’s speech was a marked improvement. Still, we found ourselves short of being effusive about it. The crowd was large and unanimously adoring because Poland’s government has lately taken an authoritarian turn that does not tolerate dissent any more willingly than did its communist predecessors, so a truly robust defense of Western values should have made mention of that, and it pains us to admit that even Obama’s apologetic and morally-relativistic and multi-cultural speech in Poland at the end of his interminable term did so.
Whatever points Trump might have have scored for western civilization in that speech, he promptly threw them all away in an ensuing joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda. The Polish government has lately been restricting press freedom in ways that Trump can only envy, and Trump expressed his sympathy for the cause by damning most American media as “fake news” before a worldwide media audience. He was particularly irked by the unfavorable coverage of the National Broadcasting Company, explaining it was because he once had a hit reality show on the network, and although capitalism is indeed a western value we don’t think that Trump strike quite the right balance with a free press.
Worse yet, Trump also advised his international audience that it can’t necessarily believe it anything it hears from America’s intelligence agencies. In response to a question from one of those darned NBC reporters if Trump accepted the conclusion of America’s intelligence community that Russia had meddled in America’s past presidential election, the winner of that election said that he thought they might have but so had other countries he wouldn’t name and other people he wouldn’t speculate about, and he recalled how they had been wrong about all sorts of things including an Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program prior to the Iraqi war, and “nobody really knows for sure” what is true. During his winning Republican primary campaign Trump had alleged that Republican President George W. Bush knew from intelligence reports that there was no such program but lied the country into a disastrous war over it anyway, but the current story is that the intelligence agencies had knowingly misled him, and in any of the tellings of the story the Republican Party and America and its intelligence community and the rest of western civilization don’t look good.
All of this complicated the next day’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, of course, but naturally there was an attention-diverting “tweet” from the president early that morning. “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the (Democratic National Committee’s) server to the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and the (Central Intelligence Agency), Trump “tweeted” from Hamburg, Germany, adding “Disgraceful.” In case you don’t follow the news diligently, Podesta was the campaign chairman for vanquished Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, there was some fuss about her e-mails during that long-ago campaign, and even such Trump-wary Republicans as us are still annoyed about it. Not even such an eager-to-believe sycophant as Sean Hannity will buy that’s what everyone in Hamburg was talking about on the opening of a G-20 summit of the world’s 20 largest economies, though, and Podesta was not the head of the DNC and had no authority over it’s e-mail server, so he was thus was able to plausibly “tweet” back about a “whack job president,” and all the president’s men and women seemed relieved it was overshadowed by Trump’s much-anticipated face-to-face meeting with Putin.
Before they got around to that, though, the European Union and the Japanese government had announced negotiations on a free-trade agreement that was clearly a preemptive measure against the protectionist trade policies that Trump had run on in his winning presidential campaign. Trump had treated Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a round of golf at his high-priced Mar-a-Lago resort, and boasted of their personal relationship, but Abe explained his participation in a treaty that will leave the United States automotive industry disadvantaged in the European and Asian markets by saying it demonstrates “a strong political will to fly the flag for free trade against a shift toward protectionism.” A few days earlier German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who now seems to speak for 18 or so — minus Russia — of the countries in the G-20, had stated that “whoever thinks that the problems of this world can be solved by protectionism and isolation lives under a huge misconception,” and Trump is clearly negotiating his art of the deal to make America great again from an isolated position.
Even that disaster was overshadowed by the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin, however, so all the president’s men and women did their best to spin that on on all the Sunday morning talk shows. They all noted that by all accounts Trump did bring up Russia’s meddling in the past presidential election, but Trump had already said that it was based on unreliable American intelligence and that everybody does it, and there was some discrepancy in the American and Russian accounts about whether Trump accepted Putin’s claim that Russia was entirely innocent in the affair. One of the only Russians in the meeting claim that Trump agreed, the American Secretary of State who was one of only three Americans in the meeting quite believably admit that Trump agreed the American media had overstated the extent of Russian meddling, and we assume that at least 19 of the G-20 reached their own conclusions.
We also assume that most of Trump’s die-hard supporters here in the USA don’t much care what a bunch of Eurotrash and Latin and Asiatic globalist opponents think, and take their opprobrium as a badge of honor, but in the long run it probably does matter. Negotiating all those great trade deals to make America great again with a now-unified front of 18 of the world’s strong economies seems trickier than ever, and here in the domestic politics of the USA Trump didn’t do much to quash all that press talk about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia. Over the same weekend The New York Times had Donald Trump Jr. admitting that he and the Trump campaign chairman attended a meeting with a Kremlin-tied lawyer in anticipation of possible dirt on the soon-to-be vanquished Clinton campaign, whose chairman had been undeniably hacked, even if that was Obama’s fault and not Putin’s, and any triumphs from Trump’s visit seem likely to get lost in the next news cycle.
Trump predictably skipped the traditional post-G-20 news conference but “tweeted” his own clarification of his meeting with Putin, unhelpfully explaining that he had already made his position on Russian meddling in the election clear, and added that he was working with Putin to create an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to prevent the sort of hacking that he may or not believe Russia perpetrated. Such Republicans as Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham and John McCain were showing up on the Sunday shows and “tweeting” their skepticism about such a proposal, with Rubio likening it to having Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad partnering in an anti-chemical weapons coalition,  a short time later Trump was “tweeting” his assurance that it wasn’t going to happen, and all in all it didn’t seem a very triumphant end to Trump’s European trip.

— Bud Norman

On the Strange Confluence of the Philippines and the American Presidential Race

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is making an issue of America’s rapidly deteriorating relationship with the Philippines, as any old Republican nominee would, but at this point in such a crazy election year as this it is unlikely to do him any good.
At first glance the issue seems tailor-made for any old Republican’s faltering campaign. The president of a longtime and still-essential Asian ally travels to China to renounce all military and economic ties with the United States, declares an ominous alliance with China and Russia “against the world,” while an incumbent Democratic administration that has spent nearly eight years alienating allies and appeasing enemies is once again clearly caught off-guard, so the Republican rhetoric should pretty much write itself. That defecting president’s pull-out quote about how “America has lost” plays right in with the Republican nominee’s campaign theme that America never wins anymore, too, so it should have been at least enough to push those pesky groping allegations off the front page for a day or two. In such a crazy election year as this, though, it’s a more complicated matter.
For one thing, it’s not quite clear that the Philippines has actually renounced its relationship with the United States or embarked on a new one with China and Russia. President Rodrigo Duterte apparently has, despite some recent backtracking, but he’s only the president of the Philippines and has constitutionally limited authority, and the rest of the government and most of the country have a markedly different opinion that might yet prevail. There’s been an anti-American strain in Filipino politics ever since the United States reluctantly found itself an occupying power in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war, which of course involved some unpleasantness, but that ended centuries of Spanish colonial rule that were far more heavy-handed, and America was eager to quickly hand over power to a sovereign democracy, which was soon conquered by Japanese invaders who were the worst yet, with the Americans coming to the rescue, albeit for somewhat self-interested reasons, and since then the big threat has been the Chinese who had also ruthlessly ruled the country before the Spanish kicked them out, so for the most part Filipinos are kindly inclined toward Americans and the $24 billion dollars of business they with them each year. Indeed, even after nearly eight years of the Obama administration America’s approval rating in the Philippines is higher than anywhere in Europe, Asia, South America, or even the United States itself.
As much as we’d love to blame the estrangement on the Obama administration and both of its godawful Secretaries of State, whose brusque treatment of such longtime allies as the Czechs and Poles and British and Canadians and Australians and Israelis and anti-communist Hondurans and obsequious gestures toward Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood has given the whole world reason to question whether American friendship is worth much or American animosity risks anything, we have to admit that this Duterte character is more at fault. He was elected by the Filipino people in a fit of anti-establishment pique last May, after a populist “Philippines First” campaign that featured him bragging about his penis size, and has since been making all sorts of inexplicable trouble for the country. He instituted “law and order” policy that has killed hundreds of suspected but unproved dealers, called the American president a “son of a whore” for threatening to ask about it at an Asian summit, used the same term to describe Pope Francis over some dispute or another, repeatedly praised the strong leadership of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, threatened his many media critics with official retribution, and publicly regretted that he wasn’t “first in line” for the 1989 gang rape of an Australian missionary.
If this reminds you of anybody be assured that even such anti-Trump publications as Time Magazine and The Guardian have told their readers that the Republican nominee is no Duterte, both noting that the Filipino actually has a long record of political service, and even such anti-Trump sorts as ourselves will admit that Trump hasn’t proposed death squads to deal with the drug problem and that even his most outrageous shtick on the Howard Stern show doesn’t rise to the level of that gang-rape gag. Still, there are sufficient similarities, right down to the boasts about penis size and the feuds with the Pope and the bromance with Putin, to give any voters in a fit of anti-establishment pique some pause. Duterte and his renunciation of longstanding treaty obligations would provide a good talking to almost any old Republican presidential nominee, but in this crazy election year Trump also has other problems exploiting the issue.
Almost any old Republican nominee could hammer the Obama administration and that godawful first Secretary of State who is somehow the Democratic nominee over their reckless policy of alienating allies and appeasing foes, which surely has something to do with Duterte’s latest craziness, but Trump is in poor position to do so. He has declared the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “obsolete” and threatened to leave it for a younger, hotter alliance unless they agree to his financial conditions, suggested that Japan and North Korea might need to acquire nuclear weapons rather than rely on the under-paid American umbrella, given the same suggestion to Saudi Arabia, and generally made clear that the entire Pax Americana is going to be re-negotiated or altogether abandoned no matter the outcome of the upcoming election, so at this point we can hardly blame any ally or foe who plans accordingly.
Besides, most Americans have only the vaguest idea that there is a Philippines, and no idea who Rodrigo Duterte is, and they’re rightfully suspicious about why the Philippines is spelled with a “Ph” but Filipinos use an “F,” and there are more pressing concerns about the populist Republican nominee’s hand size and you-know-what-means and his own foul language and verbal feud with the Pope and how very awful that Democratic nominee is. This latest news from the Philippines is bad for everyone, both major party nominees for the presidency included, and we’ll just have to see how badly it plays out.

— Bud Norman

Keeping All the Cards on the Imaginary Table

It’s hard to imagine a worse foreign policy than the one America has been pursuing for the past seven and a half years or so, but then again we don’t have the imagination of Donald J. Trump.
We cannot conceive of any remotely plausible circumstances that might compel an American president to launch a nuclear missile at anywhere in Europe during the next four years or so, for instance, but Trump has told an interviewer on internationally broadcast television that he wants “keep all the cards on the table” just in case. Neither can we imagine the unimaginable tragedy that would result from North Korea and Japan engaging in a nuclear war, and although Trump insists he shares our preference that it never come to pass he then literally shrugs and waves his hands and adds that at least it would be over quickly and “if they do, they do.” Although we can well understand why pressure should be brought to bear on our North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners to shoulder their share of the alliance’s many burdens, we cannot envision a more-or-less peaceful world without it, but Trump openly muses about making demands that our allies “pay up, including for past deficiencies, and if it breaks up NATO it breaks up NATO.”
Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will find all this appealing, and explain what a shrewd negotiator he is, him being the best-selling author of “The Art of the Deal” and the guy who came out ahead of his sucker creditors in four bankruptcies and numerous failed businesses and all, but the rest of the world is seeing it quite differently. Pretty much everyone at every end of the political spectrum in Europe and Asia and the Middle East are alarmed about the prospect of a Trump presidency, and the entirety of the Latin American world has its own concerns, of course, and Africa should should soon join in just as soon as Trump finds some reason to insult its unfortunate people, and although sneering one’s way into the opprobrium of an entire world of damn foreigners will also appeal to Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters it strikes us as a rather poor start to repairing the last seven and a half years or so of godawful foreign policy.
The last seven and a half years or so of godawful American foreign policy have been guided by the worst of left-wing isolationism, which holds that American is so morally corrupt that any influence it exerts on the world is bound to be harmful, and the worst of left-wing internationalism, which holds that American influence can be justifiably exerted so long as it isn’t in American interests and is approved by a bunch of damn foreigners. This is hard to beat, but the Trump response combines the worst of right-wing isolationism, which holds that America is so pure that any contact with all those damn foreigners in the outside world will be corrupting, and the most random sort of right-interventionism, which claims it was against the Iraq war even though it’s no where on record saying so and is on record saying otherwise on the Howard Stern radio show in between the nude lesbian segments, and was critical of the pull-out from Iraq but still says “Bush lied, people died,” and is one day there with boots on the ground in Syria and is the next content to “bomb the “s**t” out of them and is neutral on that whole Israel-Palestinian thing but assures us that’s just another bluff.
At least he’ll stand up to that blustery and buffoonish Putin, unlike that craven weakling Obama, but the strong man Trump has been flattered by Putin’s praise and spoken kindly of his “strength” and noted that America kills people too and suggested that the current unpleasantness in Syria is best handled by Putin and one of the crack team of top-notch men that Trump always surrounds himself with is a big investor in Russia’s state-owned natural gas company and best in known in foreign policy circles as slavish apologist for Putin, but we’re assured they’re going to make great deal. Trump’s front-running Democratic counterpart was the Secretary of State who offered that disastrous “reset button” to Russia, but at least it didn’t reset relations back  to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. The other options are the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on one the Democrat side, for crying out loud, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has used “neoconservative” as a slur but otherwise sounds at least reasonable on the other side, so we’re hoping the rest of the world well.
Perhaps Trump’s geo-political genius is simply beyond our imagination, and he’s playing some brilliant gambit by discomfiting everyone in the entire world except his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone fans, but we doubt it. In that disastrous interview with the Washington Post where he pressed on the specific of his foreign policy Trump veered from a question about the Islamic to a boast about how he’d vanquished Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primaries by calling him “Little Marco,” and he seemed to expect that the editorial board of the Washington Post would be convinced that he could deal with any international adversaries just as effectively, and we’re sure his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone fans will agree, but we aren’t reassured and neither can we imagine any foreign leaders will be.
In that same disastrous interview Trump described his foreign policy as “America First,” which has a nice ring to it unless you’ve read enough relatively recent history to recall that was the slogan of the isolationists who would have let the Axis powers rule the world outside fortress America. We don’t that Trump has read enough to know that, but former “pitchforks brigade” insurgent outsider anti-establishment Republican candidate surely did, as he wrote a book long after the fact arguing that American darned well should have allowed the rest of the world to be ruled by the Axis powers, as it as in America’s interests, and we note that he’s endorsing Trump’s variety of nationalism.

— Bud Norman

A Bad News Cycle for the Front-Runner

Perhaps it’s only because he got bored with winning, but the recent brief pause in the Republican presidential nomination race has not been kind to front-running real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show mogul Donald J. Trump. His campaign manager was indicted for battery against a woman reporter, his threats and slurs against a rival’s wife caused even some of his most fervent supporters to question his judgment, the beloved-by-Republicans governor of Wisconsin endorsed Trump’s most pesky rival in the state’s important upcoming primary, and his efforts to explain it all have compounded the problems while somehow offending both sides of the abortion debate and alarming allies from Europe to Asia.
Reasonable people will disagree as to whether Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s undeniably hands-on encounter with reporter Michelle Fields of the previously friendly Brietbart.com site rises to even the level of a misdemeanor, which is what he’s been charged with following an investigation by the police officers Trump is always praising, despite Trump’s earlier denial that Lewandowski ever laid a hand on Fields, but it’s hard to see how the indictment is helpful. Trump’s so-faithful-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will note that the district attorney who brought the charges is a supporter of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, although we suppose at least half the charges being brought against accused criminals in the country are similarly suspect, and we heard a caller on one of the talk radio shows note that Fields is a libertarian, which he seemed to believe justified any rough treatment, but the vast majority of the country holding less indulgent views of Trump are likely to see it differently. Trump is already on record promising that any press outlets he dislikes “will have problems, such problems,” and saying that “Women, you’ve got to treat ’em like s**t,” and his campaign manager had already had a collar-grabbing incident with one of those idiot protestors that Trump has said he’d like to “punch in the face,” which one of his supporters did, and we’re still awaiting whether Trump will keep his promise to pay the legal fees, and it all fits a plausible narrative that’s building on both the right and left sides of the media.
Trump’s already dreadful poll numbers among women, most worrisomely even among Republican women, had already taken a further hit by his decision to threaten that he would “spill the beans” on the wife of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and then “re-Tweet” a message that basically meant “ha ha my wife’s hotter than yours,” which offended even the wave-riding pundit Ann Coulter, who had previously said she wouldn’t mind if Trump performed abortions in the White House, and his attempts to wave it all off also weren’t helpful. Seemingly surprised by a popular Wisconsin talk radio host’s questions about his sexist mud-slinging, Trump explained that he was just yukking it up with the notoriously sexist shock jock Howard Stern with some of those by now widely-circulated sexist comments, in between the nude lesbian segments, and that “everybody was laughing,” but we wonder how many of those thus-far unsupportive women will be persuaded. The Wisconsin talk radio host was having none of it, and Trump admitted he was surprised to find out that the host was one of us “Never Trump” conservative, which any half-way competent campaign manager would have known and warned of if he hadn’t been too busy mixing it up with reporters and protestors, but we are reassured by Trump and his supporters that he’ll always have the best people around him.
The endorsement of Cruz by Gov. Walker could have been easily and effectively ignored, but Trump of course took it personally and responded with a ridiculous rant against the beloved-by-Republicans hero of the great union fight. The man who claims the “anti-establishment” and “at least he fights” mantel cited some phony-baloney statistics from the mainstream press he routinely ridicules to disparage both Walker’s and the entirety of Wisconsin’s remarkable success in fighting the lousy deal that the public sector unions had forced on the state, blamed the “hatred” of the union thugs that predictably ensued on the reformers, and on the days leading to a Republican primary he blasted the governor for not raising taxes. Of course, there was the usual blather about making better deals.
Although the “at least he fights” candidate is dodging any one-on-one debates with his last remaining rival, a former national collegiate debate champion and esteemed member of the Supreme Court bar, he did wind up in a series of disastrous confrontations with other interlocutors besides that Wisconsin radio host. Facing the likes of the equally unintelligible Chris Matthews of the MSNBC network he wound up saying that women who get abortions should face criminal charges, a position that the pro-abortion movement has long been ascribing to the anti-abortion movement and that the anti-abortion movement has been strenuously denying for just as long, thereby infuriating both sides of the most divisive issue of recent times, which was quickly walked back, because Trump is a “uniter,” but it’s hard to score that round for Trump. He also cited health care and education as two of the three most important duties of the federal government, even though he had to later explain that of course as a Republican he thought health care was best left to the private sector and education to the states and localities.
Trump’s same “town hall” chit-chat with the unintelligible Matthews also had him disparaging the South Koreans and Japanese for free-loading on America’s defense budget, even though the South Koreans are occasionally cantankerous but ultimately realistic about their tenuous situation and the Japanese have lately been quite stalwart, and he said something about them needing to go nuclear that was also quickly walked back, and that followed a lot of Timothy Leary-esque stream-of-consciousness stuff before the Washington Post and New York Times about the free-loaders in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that alarmed not only our allies but even the more thoughtful observers who have been arguing for reforms in that still-essential organization.
Those so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone fans will surely remain loyal, but the latest poll in Wisconsin shows Cruz with a comfortable margin and let’s-all-get-along Gov. John Kasich of Ohio within striking distance of Trump, the down-in-the-mud-with-the-National-Enquirer style of campaigning that we’re told is needed to defeat the Democrats doesn’t seem to be working in a state where the slogan is “Wisconsin Nice,” and we’d like to think the rest of the country is also too nice for this nonsense.

— Bud Norman

St. Patrick and the Borders

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, but we don’t have big plans. The parade and the celebration at The Shamrock over on West Douglas took place Saturday, presumably so that everyone could get the hangover out of the way before heading back to work, and there doesn’t seem to be anything else on the agenda in this not very Irish town. With all due respect to Ireland, however, we will wear something green to ward off the pinches, put an old Van Morrison record on the turntable, hoist a beer, and hope that the Emerald Isle lives on in something like it’s current shape.
Hanging on to national territory is getting to be a trickier proposition almost everywhere these days. Ukraine just lost a big chunk of itself to a dubious referendum overseen by Russian soldiers, and the rest of the erstwhile Soviet empire is nervously watching the west’s weak response. China also seems intent on extending its claims far into the South China Sea, at the expense of Japanese and Filipinos who are also no doubt wondering what happened to the good old international order, and any other tin pot would-be revanchists out there are probably figuring that now’s as good a time as any to stake a claim. The once great nations that used to impose peaceful borders on unfriendly neighbors are preoccupied with holding on to their own as territory, as Ireland’s neighbors in Scotland are considering bolting the United Kingdom, Venice is contemplating a break with Italy, and the Quebecois’ latent yearnings for independence from Canada have lately been reawakened. Similar secessionist movements are popping up everywhere, from Puerto Rico to California to the more easily disputed regions of Asia and Africa, and there’s no telling what the maps will look like by the end of the Obama administration.
Ireland should look pretty much the same, we suppose, unless “the troubles” somehow recur. Although we are not well-traveled outside the United States we did once drive almost everywhere in Ireland on a trip with the old man a few years back, and found it a lovely country full of friendly people, although the inebriated fellow urinating on our hotel window in Dublin wasn’t altogether atypical. There was an eerie abundance of European Union flags and a strange lack of Irish flags, and nothing to mark the border with Northern Ireland except that the pubs demanded payment in Pounds rather than Euros, but there was a distinct sense of nationhood that we expect will survive a few more years. The nationalist sentiment was even more apparent on the next week’s tour of Scotland, also a lovely country full of friendly people, although we did have to dodge a particularly rough bar brawl in Edinburgh, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Great Britain is missing a big chunk of itself soon.
That’s nobody’s business but the Scots’, we suppose, but when the lines are re-drawn with soldiers and warships and a complete disregard for the agreed-upon rules it always ends in trouble. When the nations responsible for enforcing the rules can’t keep themselves together, it’s even more troublesome.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

Americans tend not to notice such things, what with the college basketball championship tournament looming and the economy continuing to sputter along and all the other domestic distractions hogging the news pages, but the rest of the world is rapidly spinning out of control.
It has not gone entirely unnoticed that Russia has effectively seized control of a good chunk of Ukraine, which involves Europeans and a villain reminiscent of the Cold War and is therefore the sort of international news that American media feel obliged to report, but the story has effectively stolen all the attention from equally unsettling developments elsewhere. China has taken the opportunity to engage in some old-fashioned land-grabbing of its own, taking an increasingly belligerent stance toward Japan over some obscure islands in the East China Sea and using warships to blockade the Filipino soldiers defending some other obscure islands nearby. South America’s salsa-dancing version of Marxism continues to implode in Venezuela, where the government continues to crack down on the popular uprising with a murderous brutality, and the lack of coverage conveniently spares it any international opprobrium and all the radical chic Chavezistas in Hollywood any embarrassment. The apocalyptic suicide cult that rules Iran continues its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and even the ever-optimistic weenies of the European Union are no longer hopeful that diplomacy will stop them. Iran’s allies in Syria continue to massacre their people with wild abandon, the Syrian chemical weapons that the aforementioned Russian villain promised to take care of after the American president weaseled out of his “red line” declaration are still stockpiled, and even the ever-optimistic weenie Secretary of State John Kerry has reportedly judged our policy there a failure. Kerry has still found time to pursue his fool’s errand of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, but the only sign of progress to be found there is Israel’s reluctant release of some Palestinian terrorists.
This litany no doubt omits numerous other disasters currently occurring around the world, but it should suffice to suggest a world rapidly spinning out of control. It should also suffice to prompt a serious public discussion of America’s foreign policy, but this is probably too much to hope for until the basketball tournament is completed. For now all of these stories are but a quarrel in a far away country by people of which know little, to borrow British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s description of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, and until the effects of conflagration are felt here take little interest. That might happen sooner rather than later, however, and it’s not too early to start thinking about what America might be doing wrong. The stock market’s already taken a dive on the bankruptcies of a few Chinese firms, the American motorist’s next fill-up will be pricier because of the anxieties on the international oil market, and Chamberlain was not the first western idealist to be reminded of the historical lesson that land-grabbing dictatorships have always ended badly.
A serious public discussion might lead to the conclusion that America’s foreign policy is doing something seriously wrong, which is another reason so many of the media are reluctant to give these stories due prominence. Russia’s brazen disregard for its previous recognition of Ukraine’s borders began with an American effort to “re-set” relations on an apologetic basis by reneging on missile defense agreements with the former Russian puppets Poland the Czech Republic. China’s encroachments followed similar blandishments toward that expansionist dictatorship. Iran’s march toward nuclear Armageddon has been a response to the offer of an “open hand” and the administration’s embrace of the equally apocalyptic suicide cult of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which is yet another one of those disasters omitted from our litany. Syria’s brutality is being carried out with the certainty that it has nothing to fear from an administration that had out-sourced its “red line” to the same Russian villain now ruling much of Ukraine, and Venezuela’s is carried out with confidence that the radical chic Chavezistas in the administration won’t raise too much of a fuss.
The conclusion is so obvious that even the administration is lately taking a tougher line, with Kerry warning Russia that it has until Monday to begin leaving Ukraine or face serious consequences. Kerry isn’t clear on what those consequences might be, however, and it is even more unclear how they might counter the Russian troops being amassed on the Ukrainian border. Back in the domestic news we note that the administration’s Defense Secretary wants to cut the military to pre-World War II levels and the president’s proposed budget would have America spending less on national defense than on debt service payments that would fund the lion’s share of China’s military build-up, and we expect that the Russians and Chinese and Iranians and Syrians and the rest of the world’s troublesome countries have also noticed. Our erstwhile allies have probably noticed, too, and one can only hope that Americans eventually will as well.

— Bud Norman