Choosing Between Scylla and Charybdis

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

— Bud Norman

The Ongoing Campaign’s National Insecurity Statement

Ever since the Reagan administration — and oh how we miss those days, by the way — the congress has required that presidents provide a general statement of their foreign policy objectives and plans to achieve them. Every president has complied, always with a low-key and little-noticed publication carefully written to avoid antagonizing any adversaries or alarming any allies, but of course President Donald Trump seized the opportunity to deliver yet another campaign speech on Monday.
There was some good stuff in the official written statement, we must admit it, despite that “America First” slogan that always reminds us of the pre-World War II era.. Trump vowed that America’s foreign policy would be back up by an ever-more muscular military, and warmed our old-fashioned Republican hearts by quoting President Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of “peace through strength,” although without attribution. He spoke of “rallying the world” to confront North Korea’s nuclear provocations, which holds out some hope of a diplomatic solution, and of reaching a better deal than the current deal to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, although he didn’t get very specific about what it would be or how he might get it. One sentence promised “gradual reform, not radical change, should be our guiding objective” in the Middle East, and there were other allusions to international alliances and American leadership that had a similarly reassuring steady-at-the-helm sound about them. He mentioned Russia as one of America’s more troublesome countries, but was vague about their interference in the past presidential election.
There was also a lot of nonsense from past national security statements that was left out, we must admit. Climate change wasn’t among the national security threats mentioned, no apologies were offered for pursing American interests, and didn’t describe the obvious threat of radical Islamist terrorism as “religious extremism.” On the whole, the brief written statement wasn’t half-bad by Trump standards.
The much longer campaign speech Trump delivered was far worse, though, for all the usual reasons. It began with his characteristic boasts about the tens of thousands of miles he’s travelled and the hundreds of world leaders he’s met as president, which reminded of us vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s similar campaign boasts about her tenure as Secretary of State, and it was quickly followed by some flattery about how the American people have been “among the greatest forces for peace and justice in the world.” That was followed by the characteristic boast that “just one year ago, you spoke out loud and clear. On Nov. 8, 2016, you voted to make America great again.”
Notwithstanding his three-million-or-so-vote loss in the popular vote, Trump then took the opportunity to criticize at least five of his most recent predecessors, although without mentioning any names. He criticized pretty much all of America’s current trade deals, which date as far back as Reagan, and he blasted “nation-building abroad while they failed to replenish our nation at home,” which clearly means President George W. Bush and the rest of the Bushes and the rest of the Republican establishment. He also spoke of how “they put American energy under lock and key” and “imposed punishing regulations and crippling taxes,” which can only mean Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and lamented how “they” had neglected to solve the North Korea problem, with the “them” presumably stretching back to the administration of President Harry Truman.
All of those darned “them” also negotiated all of the worst-ever trade deals that have done so much damage to the American economy, which Trump frequently brags is humming along better than ever, but Trump made his usual vague promises to set that right. Trump also blamed them for letting a lot of illegal aliens into the country, which is a fair enough point, but followed it up with the usual crazy talk about building a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border, even if he didn’t add the long lost crazy talk about making the Mexicans pay for it. Much of the speech was devoted to boasting about America is stronger than ever and standing up for itself like never before, but overall it struck as strikingly whiny.
Trump is quite right that pretty much of the entirety of American history, the past several presidential administrations included, have left him in a rather tough spot. Every president could say the same, though, as could any other world leader about his country and its past several governments. The best of them have never disparaged the past leadership of their countries or the people who put them in power and instead moved forward with steady-at-the-helm leadership, and the worst them have always made vague promises to set things right.
Back in the campaign Trump promised he would never apologize for America, despite a few missteps it has undeniably made, and he would do well to acknowledge that the entirety of its history has also left him a position most of history’s world leaders would have envied. America’s military does need a boost, but it had been the world’s mightiest for more than 75 years before Trump office, despite all those Democrats. The past decades of free trade have driven innovations and increased prosperity not only in America but around a relatively placid globe, and the past 11 months of Trump haven’t much changed that trajectory.
Trump’s campaign speech probably got about as much attention as those low-key and little-read previous national security statements did, but it probably got the usual scrutiny from our anxious allies and recently emboldened adversaries. If they glean the same impression we gleaned of a megalomaniacal yet desperate politician pandering to his base rather than conducting a steady at the helm of American foreign policy in the country’s interests, all the good stuff will be for naught.

— Bud Norman

Catalonia, Catalonia, What Makes Your Big Head So Hard?

The last time Spain had a civil war it was fought between supporters of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco and communists who wanted to establish a worker’s paradise similar to Stalin’s Soviet Union, which offered an even worse choice than the one America voters faced in the last presidential election. This time around it’s the seceding government of the largely autonomous Catalonia region against the federal government, and although it lacks the military might to wage an actual shooting civil war like America once endured with its secessionists the spat doesn’t look to end well for anyone.
Catalonia’s regional government has declared its independence from Spain, but the Spanish government has asserted constitutional authority to prevent that from happening. The Spaniards have kicked all the rebellious Catalan officials out of office, arrested several of them, sent in enough firepower to get it done, and the smart money is betting they’ll prevail. So far no nation has recognized Catalonia’s independence, and the polling there suggests most Catalans would prefer to remain Spaniards.
An independent Catalonia would be a tiny country with a tiny population and tiny economy, too, but it could be viable. It has the world-class city of Barcelona as its capital, lucrative borders with the Mediterranean Sea and France, and a long tradition of running its regional affairs to the satisfaction of its people. Catalonia also has its own way of talking, a rich distinctive culture that gave the world Antoni Gaudi’s mind-blowing architecture and some great cuisine, and no doubt some very valid complaints with the Spanish federal government. There’s a case to be made for Catalonia’s independence, but from our vantage point here in Kansas we’re not buying it, and we’re sure it worries people all over.
Even here in Kansas, where the leaves are beautifully turning and we’re temporarily back to sunny skies and temperatures as moderate as you can hope for in late October, there’s a certain uncomfortable sense that here and around the world too many people are itching to sever the bonds that have long bound them to their countrymen. It’s probably more pronounced in Spain, where the Catalans have officially declared their independence and the Basques have long waged an occasionally terrorist war for it, or in Canada where the Francophone Quebecois have long threatened to assert their independence, or in the United Kingdom, where the Scots recently agreed by a scarily slim majority to stay on board. There are countless independence movements in South America and Africa and the Middle East, as well, and given how none of those regions have managed their affairs to anyone’s satisfaction that’s all the more unsettling.
Even here in relatively hale America there’s the longstanding talk about Texas reasserting its independence and California splitting into three states, as well as all the ongoing talk on both sides about the reliably Republican-voting blue states and the the hard-core Democratic blue states parting ways, and although none of it seems likely to come pass any time soon it doesn’t look to end well. If the tiny country of Catalonia and its tiny population and tiny economy gain independence, it will only encourage the separatist movements in the Basque region of Spain and the Quebec province of Canada and the Scottish portion of the United Kingdom, not to mention all those destabilized elements in the more already unstable portions of the world, and it might even wind up enflaming the conflicts here in once-Bleeding Kansas.
From our perspective here in Kansas we’re sympathetic to local rule, and can’t blame Europe’s nationalist parties for their skepticism about European Union rule, and well understand that a lot of those South American and African and Middle Eastern boundaries were badly drawn by European powers, and that some adjustments in some places are required. Catalonia’s case, though, is less compelling. When America declared its independence from the United Kingdom its Continental Congress acknowledged that “When in in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth to which the Last of Nature and Nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect for the opinion of mankind requires that they should declare the the causes which impel them to the separation.” The rebellious congress of the United States America compellingly made that case in the Declaration of Independence, and so far the Catalans haven’t.
So far as we can tell the Catalans’ case isn’t based on any valid complaint that the federal government has prevented them from running their region to the people’s general satisfaction, but rather on a stubborn ethnic pride that wants to assert itself. This is understandable enough from our perspective here in Kansas, where we also have our own way of talking and doing things and resent any outside interference, but not convincing. So far at least Kansa continues to do things mostly it own way, begrudgingly allows those crazy Californians and New Yorkers and the rest of the blue states to do things their own way, and as bad as things are everywhere they could be a lot worse.
So far as we can tell Catalonia and Spain could continue the same slightly tolerable arrangement, and we hope they do. Some adjustments to the borders might be required elsewhere, but for the rest of us some stability and a lack of stubborn ethnic pride would be more comforting right now.

— Bud Norman

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<

The Only One Who Can Solve, God Help Us

Once upon a happier time in America, not even a full year ago, we would have paid no more attention to Donald J. Trump’s pronouncements on American foreign policy than we would to those of that Snooki woman from that “Jersey Shore” program or one of the “Real Housewives of Wherever” or any of those other obnoxious reality television show stars. Somehow he’s now the clear front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, however, so we felt a civic duty to duly consider his big address on Wednesday. It was not at all reassuring.
The oration before the fancy-schmantzy Center for the National Interest was noteworthy merely by the fact that Trump was reading from a prepared text, complete with some entire parseable sentences and paragraphs, and was meant to convey a more presidential demeanor than his usual fourth-grade-level and off-the-cuff Don Rickles riffs. There was still some of the usual Trump rhetorical style in the speech, with such two-word sentences as “No vision,” and “Not good,” as well as the usual Trump bravado with such claims as “I am the only person running for the presidency who understands this and this is a serious problem.” To emphasize the point he once again insisted the listener believe him, one of those “tells” that better gamblers than the former owner of a bankrupt casino know to look for, adding “I’m the only one, believe me, I know them all, I’m the only one who knows how to fix it.” All in all it was slightly more stylish than his previous “tweet” about the Islamic State that “Only I can solve,” but not quite Reagan-esque.
Nor did it help that his scathing critique of the entirety of the post-Reagan era of American foreign policy also had him saying that “Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one disaster after another.” If you find yourself on “Family Feud” and the category is “Things People Associate With Donald Trump,” we can confidently advise you that the survey will surely say “foolish” and “arrogant” and “one disaster after another” came well ahead of “logical.” He was also arrogant enough to explain how none of those disasters would have occurred if only “I Can Who Solve” were in charge at that moment of history, which is quite provably foolish.
The very reliable Andrew McCarthy of the determinedly anti-Trump National Review, who was prosecuting the original World Trade Center bombers on terrorism charges back when Trump was firing Dennis Rodman on “The Apprentice” and has been a consistently correct commentator on radical Islamic terrorism issues ever since, has the unassailable citations to prove that the disasters Trump now laments in Libya, Iraq, and Syria were met with his on-the-record approval at the time. No one was paying any attention to the foreign policy pronouncements of a reality show star back in those good old days, so Trump can be assured that his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters won’t bother to follow the the links, but he did seem put off his usual Vegas lounge game by the perfunctory applause he was getting from the fancy-schmaltzy establishment types of the Center for the National Interest who might have played some role in the one disaster after another but who have been paying keen attention to these matters since before Trump was firing Meatloaf on “The Apprentice” and aren’t so arrogant that they won’t admit their mistakes in an attempt to get it right next time. Although we claim no particularly foreign policy expertise, we share their skepticism.
There was some perfunctory applause for Trump’s now familiar promise of “America First,” although such fancy-schmantzy types probably know enough American history to associate the phrase with the isolationists of the late ’30s and early ’40s who would have allowed an Axis-dominated rest-of-the-world if served American interests. Ever since Pearl Harbor there’s been a bi-partisan consensus that an Axis-dominated rest-of-the-wirkd would not have been the long-term best interests of the country, and so far as we can tell only Trump cheerleader and past populist-nationalist “insurgent Republican” Patrick Buchanan is still in dissent, but we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that the current Republican front-runner has similarly wrong notions of what’s in America’s interests. The continued talk about making our North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies pay up for what he seems to regard as a protection racket might make some sense if it somehow worked out in “The Art of the Deal,” but the whole “you’ve got a nice a country here, shame if anything happened to it” approach seems reckless on the part of a diplomatic amateur, and his expressed eager to make a deal with Russia, “a deal that’s great — not good, but great — for America, but also for Russia,” should make it all the worrisome for those erstwhile NATO allies who have long banded together against the ongoing Russian threat.
Such eggheads are also like aware that Trump’s new campaign manager has longstanding ties with former Russian ally and deposed Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych, as well as former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a former Bahamian Prime Minister ousted from power because of his drug gang ties, and that one of the “best people” Trump always claims to hire is a notorious apologist for Russia’s more-or-less dictator who also has business ties to the country. According to The Huffington Post some of the very best people, such as former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes and the surge-winning General David Petraeus have declined his offers to serve his campaign or administration, and pretty much everyone who takes these matters seriously are expressing doubts, so we suppose we’ll just have to believe Trump that only he can solve.
Trump got the more usual enthusiasm at a rally in Indiana with the state university’s former “Hoosier” basketball coach Bob Knight, who told an enthusiastic crowd of so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that “There has never been a presidential candidate prepared to go to the length that this man is.” Knight once had a decided knack for whipping undersized white boys and athletically-challenged black boys into an occasional national championship, and is still much revered in the state for it, but he was also a notoriously rude and inconsiderate sort who waved soiled toilet paper in his players’ face and threw vases at secretaries and threw chairs at referees and punched cops and bad-mouthed his university’s administration and always claimed he was only trying to teach his players proper respect for authority, and he inevitably wound up on the tail end of Trump’s catch-phrase of “You’re fired.” We don’t take his pronouncements on who should be running America’s foreign policy any more than we would that Snooki woman from that “Jersey Shore” reality show or “The Real Housewives of Wherever” or any other obnoxious reality show star.

— Bud Norman

A New Year Opens in the Middle East

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

— Bud Norman

Another Annus Horribilis

Years always seem to end in the dead of winter, when the trees are bare and the skies are gray and the prairie winds blow bitterly cold, and thus far 2015 is proving no exception to that desultory rule. In this case it seems altogether apt, as 2015 has been a desultory year. Even the most determined optimist would find it hard to identify much good news from the past six months of headlines, in any section of the paper.
The economy sputtered along steadily enough that the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates a teensy-weensy bit, and the unemployment rate didn’t seem so bad if you just excluded all the underemployed and the huge number of people who’d given up on finding any sort of work, but the working stiff’s wages were still stagnant and even the investor class was having the hardest time making a profit since the legendarily hard times of the Great Depression. The global state of affairs further deteriorated, with the Middle East exploding in an even greater than usual hatred and the deadly repercussions being felt as far away as Paris and San Bernardino, refugees from that troubled region and Central America and elsewhere in the Third World pouring into the west in such numbers that they overwhelmed the resources and generosity of the First World, and elite western opinion blaming it all on capitalism. Academia went utterly mad in 2015, government regulations proliferated at an unprecedented rate, the popular culture offered no compensatory movies or songs or novels or dance crazes that we noticed, and our favorite sports teams suffered frustrating seasons.
The new year that starts tomorrow promises an extra Leap Year day, an inevitable spring, and a long and leafy summer that will lead to an autumnal Election Day that could possibly put some of this right, but the past year doesn’t make us hopeful. So far the Democrats seem more riled up about impoverishing the rich than enriching the poor, and the polls predicts that they’ll nominate a woman who has parlayed political influence into extraordinary wealth to make the point, so there’s little chance for progress there. Meanwhile the Republicans, until recently infuriated by crony capitalism and Russian arrogance and a shallow popular culture, are threatening to nominate a man who brags about buying off politicians and revels in the praise of Vladimir Putin and was the star of a long-running reality television show to make their point. The infuriation of 2015 will make level-headed decision-making difficult in 2016, although we can hope the warmer weather will help.

— Bud Norman

That Uncertain Time of the Year

For some reason or another Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue always gets some amount of attention, even though it’s the only time other than a dental appointment when you’re likely to be aware of Time Magazine’s continuing existence, and this year they have designated Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel for the honor. By now it’s no bigger a deal than an Academy Award or a Nobel Peace Prize or any of the other once-prestigious titles, at least as far as the average person is concerned, but it’s always a reliable indicator of what the more important sorts of people are thinking.
In this case it’s clear they’re thinking that a massive influx of immigrants from the most troubled parts of the world is just what western civilization needs to maintain its economy and sense of self-righteousness. Merkel didn’t get such profuse praise from the press when she took power as a center-right alternative to Germany’s previous more liberal leaders, and certainly not when she was wisely rejecting President Barack Obama’s pleas for a coordinated stimulus effort to revive the world economy after the 2008 recession, or when she was stubbornly insisting that Greece’s latest bail-out come with harsh conditions of fiscal rectitude, but now that she’s insisting Germany and the rest of Europe welcome millions of refugees from the Middle East’s wars and general inhabitability she enjoys a newfound respectability. Her stand on immigration is not popular in Germany, or anywhere else in the western world, but that impresses the editors of Time Magazine all the more. “She is not taking the easy road. Leaders are tested only when people don’t want to follow,” the article enthuses, “For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is Time’s ‘Person of the Year.'”
It seems to us that Merkel is asking her people to surrender their country to an incremental invasion by a markedly inferior culture, that her imposition of her own will over that of her people is itself tyrannical, that she’s doing it for the merely expedient reason of coping with her country’s below-replacement-rate fertility, which is likely a result of an enervating social welfare system and civilizational self-doubt that the centrist and childless Merkel has not addressed, and although we’ll readily agree that moral leadership is in short supply around the world she hardly seems an exception to that rule. Nor do we expect that that such leadership will inspire many followers, in Germany or elsewhere, so her influence on events will likely be short-lived. Those who prefer political correctness and economic expedience to the survival of western civilization will applaud Merkel’s defiance of popular opinion, but they won’t prevail without an ugly fight.
with such respectable leaders as Merkel currently in power in most western countries, the widespread public opposition to their insane policies has too often found voice in the most disreputable sort of parties. The National Front is the big beneficiary in France, similarly nationalist and authoritarian parties are rising throughout Europe, and of course in America all the news is about Donald Trump’s front-running status in the Republican primary race. This makes the likes of Merkel all the more attractive to the likes of Time Magazine, but it won’t make much difference.
Trump’s “tweets” on the issue suggest he is slightly miffed he didn’t get the honor, and we’ll concede that he’s far more likely to have the greater ultimate influence on events than Merkel and all the other open-borders leaders around the world, but at least the editorial didn’t include him with such past “Persons of the Year” as Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin and Ayatollah Khomeini. We note he was at least among the finalists for the title, along with the former Bruce Jenner, the Black Lives Matter movement, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the guy who came up with the “Uber” application. Putative Leader of the Free World Barack Obama didn’t make the cut, despite his own moral leadership on behalf of western civilization’s collective suicide, and neither did any of the Republican candidates who are forcefully arguing for sensible immigration policies, so it’s going to a take a hell of a person next year to set things right.

— Bud Norman

The Exponential Complexities of the Middle East

A Russian fighter jet was shot down Tuesday over Syrian air space by an American-armed Turkmen militia group on orders from the Turkish government, further complicating what was already the most confusing conflict in the history of war. The situation will require the most wily and nimble and resolute response by America’s leadership, so we expect that things are about to become even more complicated.
The Turkmen are ethnic Turks living in Syria but loyal to Turkey, which is at odds with the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, whose efforts to remain in power through a long and bloody and confusingly multi-sided civil war have been much aided by the Russians, which is presumably why the Turkmen shot down the Russian fighter jet even though it had reportedly left Turkish air space after a brief and apparently uneventful incursion. Turkey is for some reason or another a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite Prime Minister Recep Erdogan leading the country toward a more radically Islamic state, and Erdogan retains a “special friendship” with the Obama administration, probably because of Turkey’s increased radicalization, and the administration is also at odds with Assad, who has crossed “red lines” that changed the president’s calculus and now “has to go” to and is constantly subjected to similarly tough talk from the administration, but unlike the good old days of the Cold War it is no longer so simple as that. Another one of the many sides in the Syrian civil war is the Islamic State, which the administration insists is neither Islamic nor a state even though it has some pretty specific Koranic verses to explain what it’s doing in the Indiana-sized territory it now controls in former parts of Syria and Iraq, and at the moment they’re a bigger pain in the global posterior than even the Assad regime. Pretty much everyone at least claims to be opposed to the Islamic State, including Assad, whose sincerity on this matter is not to be doubted, and Russia, whose warplanes have been effectively targeting the Islamic State rather than the Turkmen and the other American-backed anti-Assad forces ever since the terror group shot down one of its jetliners, and the Assad regime’s sponsors in Iran, who as always are complicating matters further yet.
Which doesn’t begin to suggest the geo-political complexities, much less the domestic political implications, which together are exponential. The Syrian civil war has sent millions of refugees from all over the region into Europe and North America, with opportunist asylum seekers far from the conflict joining the flood, and the inevitable populist backlashes are brewing on both continents. The Islamic State’s terrorism has struck in Turkey and Lebanon as well as the heart of France, and Belgium seems to have been spared so far only by a complete lockdown of its capital city, and the groups threats against several countries including the United States can no longer be dismissed as the bluster of a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and there’s worldwide discontent and increased military action by formerly pacifist countries about that as well. Joining forces with Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies could quickly solve the Islamic State problem, but all those non-Islamic State sides would still be fighting a Syrian civil war and the refugee problem would continue and the rest of the Muslim world’s problems, such as the Yemen civil war that’s largely kept Saudi Arabia from asserting any Sunni power against the Shia Iranians and Alawite Assad in all this mess, or the Palestinians’ “stabbing intifada” against the Israelis, which has largely been overlooked amongst all the other complexities, so it seems unlikely that any country will have the region’s infectious woes solved by its next election.
One can only hope that the utter ineptitude of the current administration leading up to this sorry state of affairs will be well considered in this country’s next election, and that perhaps some correction will be made even before then. All that talk of Assad having to go and red lines being set and moderate forces being trained and air strikes being ordered was always accompanied by assurances of no American boots on the ground and little in the way of action, which emboldened Assad and his allies to use the red-lined tactics that sent the millions of refugees fleeing the region and the thousand of inspired western jihadists flooding into the region to fight for the Islamic State, and a similarly clumsy and irresolute response to Russia’s revanchism in Ukraine seems to have emboldened that country to fly over NATO airspace with impunity. In this case they seem to have made a miscalculation, failing to account for the fact that Turkmen militias armed with American weaponry don’t particularly care what American foreign policy prefers, and that despite its “special relationship” with American neither does Turkey, but once again they didn’t underestimate American resolve. The Iranians, who have been ratcheting up the “death to America” ever since they might or might not have agreed to America’s utter capitulation to its nuclear weapons program, which is eventually going to complicate things to a point that the current mess seems like the good old days, likely figures that it can maintain its puppet Assad regime and leave enough Islamic State to bedevil the infidel west and proceed with its master plan for the battle of Armageddon.
We’ll freely admit that we see no way out of this, but what worries us is that the administration won’t. Instead they insist that our policies have contained the Islamic State, that the refugees should welcomed with certainty that none will import the pathologies of the regions they are fleeing, that Russia’s seemingly expanding influence is a sign of its weakness, that all those “death to America” chants in Iran shouldn’t scuttle the deal we might or might have cut capitulating to their nuclear weapons program, and that climate change is still America’s greatest foreign policy challenge. There are reports that the American jets flying over Islamic State-controlled areas are at last dropping their bombs on the convoys of stolen oil that finance their operation, and that there are a few Americans boots actually on the ground helping to guide the missiles, and the administration did acknowledge Turkey’s right to defend its airspace, and we even read that we’re arming the Kurds, who seem to be among the more reasonable tiles in the vast and vibrant multi-cultural mosaic that is the war-torn Middle East, even though the administration denies it so as not to offend our special friends in increasingly radicalized Turkey, which has its own internal Kurdish problems, which is another one of those complexities, so perhaps there is some wising up going in the administration.
The most immediate concern is that an official if unaccountable NATO member has shot down a Russian fighter jet, and that the world will at long last come to the same ending as “Doctor Strangelove,” but we expect it will prove more complicated than that. We can easily imagine President Barack Obama sounding very much likely President Merkin Muffly as he apologizes to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and although we despite Putin’s nakedly expansionist national ambitions we credit him with the shrewdness to be satisfied with a few carpet bombings of the offending areas and the west’s abject appeasement. This doesn’t seem like something we’ll be going into toe-to-toe nuclear combat with the Russkies over, as Slim Pickens might have said, but one never knows. Our only surety, alas, is that the whole wide world is now one very sticky wicket.

— Bud Norman

Too Darned Hot

The latest alarming claim made by the climate change alarmists is that everyone’s sex life will suffer as a result of anthropogenic global warming. Their theory seems to derive from an old Cole Porter song, which famously observed that “According to the Kinsey Report, every average man you know much prefers his lovy-dovey to court when the temperature is low. But when the thermometer goes way up and the weather is sizzling hot, Mister, pants for romance is not. ‘Cause it’s too, too, too darned hot.”
The movie version of “Kiss Me Kate” has it “according to the latest report,” as any mention of Kinsey was considered too racy for ’50s audiences, even though the Ann Miller dance number is still somehow sexier than any obligatory big-name nude scene Hollywood has since filmed, which goes to show how the cultural climate is continually changing, but it’s still the same basic idea that the global warming alarmists are peddling. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research’s report, if our more conservatives readers will forgive our mention of the “N word” and the “B word” in the authors’ name, hot weather does indeed lead to a diminished “coital frequency.” The authors found that when the thermometer goes way up and the weather exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more specific than Cole Porter ever was, a significant decline in births shows up nine months later. This is a bad thing, according to the authors, who seem less concerned about a resulting worldwide crankiness from such diminished coital frequency than with the more easily quantifiable economic consequences.
All of which strikes us as peculiar, somehow. The climate change crowd is the same radical environmentalist crowd that has been openly yearning for a Gaia-saving decline in the human population for years, and they’re the same more broadly liberal crowd whose outspoken enthusiasm for exclusively non-procreative sex has not been diminished by the inevitable effects it will have on their beloved Ponzi scheme entitlement programs, and they don’t typically concern themselves with economic consequences. We note that the authors are also predicting an increase in air-conditioning sales, with a resultant increase in electrical use, which should have a salutary effect on the gross domestic product yet alarm the true believers, so the public relations strategy behind this latest alarming claim isn’t at all clear.
As much as we hate to ever disagree with the great Cole Porter, we’re also unconvinced of the claim¬†that it’s ever too darned hot. Certainly not at a mere 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the sunrise temperature around here for most of the summer, when the women are most scantily dressed and Roy Orbison’s rendition of “Pretty Woman” seems to be playing in every man’s mind as they walk by, and if you’re waiting for the temperature to drop below a mere 80 degrees Fahrenheit it might be when the days grow short as you reach September. That’s here in the middle of the prairie, too, not on the more romantic beaches of Rio de Janeiro or the French Rivera or Paul Gaugin’s topless Tahiti, and we notice that even in the most war-torn and un-air-conditioned hellholes of the Middle East the birthrates remain high enough to have lately posed a problem for all those northern Europeans who are somehow reproducing at lower than replacement levels.
Judging by the content of your average hit sit-com or beer commercial, or even a half-century-old Ann Miller dance number, it’s going to take some significant warming to cool the public’s ongoing enthusiasm for sex. Paying the carbon taxes they climate change alarmists want to impose on top of the ones that were already there to pay for all those Ponzi scheme entitlement programs, and then picking up the tab for the sudden exodus of half the overpopulated warm-weather countries to the inexplicably infertile north, not to mention all that “yes mean yes” negotiating that the colleges and the feds are now insisting on, will probably discourage a high birth rate more than an 81-degree day ever did, and it might even interfere with all that non-procreative sex.

— Bud Norman