Mad Dogs and Americans and the Noonday Sun

James “Mad Dog” Mattis is lately in the news again, and we welcome him back. The decorated war hero and four star Marine general and former Secretary of Defense has a book coming out soon, and judging by the pre-release excerpts it’s a rather scathing critique of the foreign policy of a conspicuously unnamed sitting President of the States, which strikes us as another brave and patriotic act in a long and distinguished career of public service.
Already both the left and the right are prepared to pounce on his previously impeccable reputation, of course. The left will never forgive him for volunteering to serve in the administration of the hated President Donald Trump and failing to call the president out by name, and the newly reconstituted right will never forgive him for trying to restrain the beloved president’s all-knowing gut instincts. So far as we can tell, though, he’s been a principled man to today.
Mattis came into the Trump administration with high praise from his new boss, who seemed to relish Mattis’ nickname of “Mad Dog,” although Mattis himself hated it, and Trump liked the straight-from-central-casting lean physique and wizened visage Mattis wore, but the two never got along. Mattis was accustomed to military order and a by-the-book way of doing things, while Trump clearly preferred a more chaotic management style. Mattis’ much-decorated combat experience in Vietnam and his advanced studies at the National Defense institute and his experience as commanding general of the Central Command of the North Atlantic Treaty organization had convinced him that strong alliances with the world’s leading democracies are vital to America’s national security, while Trump’s gut instincts told him that our NATO allies were a bunch of deadbeats free-riding on global trade arrangements, and he actually said out loud that he knew far more about NATO than the four-star general and former commander of the NATO alliance ever did.
Mattis eventually resigned with an exquisitely worded letter when Trump dismissed his advice against a precipitous withdrawal of American forces from Syria, which pretty much everyone was urging against, and from which Trump later backtracked. By that time the lieutenant general of the army H.R. McMaster had resigned as national security advisor, which came after he’d taken over from lieutenant general Michael Flynn’ after his resignation and conviction on felony charges, and there had also been the resignation of former Marine general John Kelly, who had clashed with Trump as White House Chief of Staff  because of his efforts to impose some sort of discipline on the White House. Trump once bragged about all of the generals who answered to him in the White House, but one by one he grew annoyed by their military tendency to tell him things he didn’t want to hear.
The left doesn’t much like military people in the first place, especially those who volunteer for service in the Trump administration, but the more sensible and centrist sort of leftists did develop a begrudging respect for the likes of Mattis and McMaster and Kelly, if not Flynn, who no longer has any friends on any side as he holds out hope for a presidential pardon. They were considered the adults in the room, the serious sort of educated and experienced men who had spent their careers contemplating the complex issues of national security, and even the most military-hating sorts of liberals hoped that they’d somehow rein in the gut instincts of Trump, which don’t seem to anyone at all well-informed.
The left still resents the exquisitely worded way all of them have gone about lambasting Trump’s policies and managerial style, without mentioning any names, but they don’t understand that the generals still feel constrained they rigid rules of military protocol they had lived their lives by. Nor does the left understand the time-tested wisdom of those rules. Trump is still the Commander in Chief, as much as that might drive the left and the generals and any seasonable person crazy, so we should all be grateful than even without mentioning any names and despite the exquisitely worded prose Mattis is plainly warning the country he long served about Trump’s gut craziness.
Based on Mattis’ carefully worded resignation letter and previous few public statements and the excerpts from his forthcoming book, he seems to believe that Trump’s penchant for fighting “twitter” feuds and trade wars and demands of protection money from such longtime and steadfast allies as Canada and the United Kingdom and Germany and Denmark and Japan and South Korea are not a good. Nor does Mattis seem to like the way Trump has “fallen in love” with the North Korean dictator and has nothing bad to say about the Russian dictator, and otherwise tends to prefer authoritarian regimes to democratic governments, and has little regard for the hard-earned international rules that have mostly brought us and the most of the rest of the rest of the world relative peace and prosperity..
This seems sound advice to us, although we lack Mattis’ educational credentials and hard-earned experience in war and peace, or Trump’s infallible gut instincts. None of the Democratic alternatives to Trump seem interested in repairing alliance or opposing adversaries, and none seem likely to solicit the carefully considered and exquisitely worded advice of the military’s best minds, but here’s hoping the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman


Tough Talk and Hard Realities on Illegal Immigration

President Donald Trump became president largely by talking far tougher on illegal immigration than any American politician had ever done. Much of his rhetoric was an obvious overreaction to an admittedly serious problem, and included promises that went beyond what a president can constitutionally keep, but it worked for him as a presidential candidate.
As president he’s lately run up against some of the legal and political realities that were always going to keep him from keeping the crazier promises, he’s gradually taken a more bleeding heart attitude toward the so-called “dreamers” that he’d once threatened to deport, and reluctantly signed a budget-busting spending bill that provides only chump changed for the “big, beautiful wall” he’d promise would stretch across the entire U.S.-Mexican border and doesn’t deport any so-called “dreamers.” Some of the hard-core campaign fans are disgruntled, including some that write syndicated columns and host syndicated talk radio shows and appear on the network news, and without much else to do about it Trump is once again talking far tougher on illegal immigration than any American politician has ever done.
Still flush from his electoral victory and its hard-line rhetoric, Trump undid by executive action the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals executive action that President Obama had instituted to defer deportations of certain longtime yet illegal residents who had been brought here as children, called “dreamers” because the law Obama couldn’t get passed had the acronym DREAM Act, but that got tangled up in legal challenges and caused a predictable political backlash. A lot of the so-called “dreamers” are undeniably solid and upstanding semi-citizens, many serving in the military or acquiring educations that will presumably benefit the country, much of the media find them very telegenic, and Trump wound up promising he would find some compassionate and “loving” solution to their legal status.
Now he’s back to “tweeting” to the fans that “DACA IS DEAD!” while trying to reassure all the so-called “dreamers” and their many sympathizers that it’s all the Democrats’ fault because they didn’t fully fund his “big, beautiful” border wall when they had the chance. This strikes us as a hard sell, and we doubt that many media will help much in the effort.
He also once again announced his attention to deploy America’s military might to secure the southern border, and this time around the Fox News network is emphasizing stories of “caravans” of a thousand or so potential asylum seekers trekking by from Central America through Mexico to the Texas border, and he once again demanding the Mexican government take immediate action. There are long upheld constitutional provisions against using the military to enforce domestic laws, and damned good reasons it that his four-star general of a chief of staff and all the black helicopter crowd and most sane Republicans have accepted, no matter how hard-line they might be on illegal immigration, and Trump admitted he hadn’t yet spoke with his Secretary of Defense or any congressional Republicans about it, so that will also be hard to pull off.
There’s precedent for calling in the National Guard, but you have to go through governors to get that done, and they’ve got political and legal problems of their own, so it remains to be seen how that will work out. As for the part about forcing to Mexico to act, Trump seems to have completely given up on his popular campaign promise about getting them to fund his “big, beautiful” border wall, and that don’t seem to be flinching on Trump’s talk about a trade war or any more than Chinese have been, and it also remains to be seen how all of that works out.
Trump has some sensible but typically overstated complaints about past immigration policies, and the tough talk might placate some of the fans, and we have to admit it’s had a salutary affect on the number of people trying to illegal cross our southern border. That’s been a diminishing problem for a while now, though, starting back in those dread Obama days shortly after actual trainloads of illegals started showing up on the border, and if the currently fully-funded Border Patrol can’t deal with that “caravan” of asylum seekers according to current laws we’ll be inclined to think it’s just another one of those lazy public sector unions.
The fans might love the tough talk, and the rest might not mind the usual results, but we’ll wait to see how it all works out in the courts and in politics and in the long run.

— Bud Norman

Christmas Eve at Mar-a-Lago

There’s a longstanding tradition that forbids American politicians from making news on Christmas, but President Donald Trump pays no heed to to even the most admirable longstanding traditions. He mostly kept to the golf course and family gatherings over the long weekend at his profitable Mar-a-Lago resort, and reportedly got a national security briefing and tended to some other presidential business, but of course he couldn’t resist a few controversial “tweets.”
Trump “tweeted” some effusive praise for the military, which does indeed deserve it, but he couldn’t help taking some undue credit for their recent successes. He also “tweeted” a “Merry Christmas” message, which American presidents have conveyed to the people long before the advent of “Twitter,” but as usual he took undue and downright blasphemous-to-our-ears credit for Christmas. For Christ’s sake — and in this case we mean that both literally and reverently — we’re quite sure the holiday would have survived without Trump.
Even on a busy Christmas Eve filled with golf and family gatherings and national security briefings, Trump still found time to criticize a high-ranking and soon-to-retire Federal Bureau of Investigation official for having a wife a who once ran for office as a Democrat, with the usual implied aspersions on the FBI in general, and that ex-FBI head honcho currently running a special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing” in particular. Perhaps it’s because he was haunted by an especially scary ghost of Christmas future, but Trump had to bring up the “Russia thing” even on Christmas Eve.
There’s never a day of the year when Trump isn’t talking about “fake news,” and even the Christmas spirit one feels on Christmas couldn’t keep him from “re-tweeting:a picture of him with a squashed bug labeled “CNN” on his show and  “tweeting” a gripe about the “fake polls” that show both him and his recently-signed tax cuts as widely unpopular. That apparently includes all the polls, as even the outlier Rasmussen Reports has his approval ratings well in the very low 40s and well under water, but we doubt Trump will convince a majority of Americans that a majority of their fellow Americans actually quite like him.
Trump didn’t take advantage of a congressional Christmas recess to fire that ex-FBI guy heading the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing,” and the economy is humming along nicely, and so far there are no mushrooms clouds on the Korean Peninsula, and we suspect Trump would be polling better if he’d lay off the “tweets,” at least on Christmas Eve.

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” and Transgenderism in the Age of Trump

The world had become a weird place even before the age of President Donald Trump, otherwise he never would have been elected, but it was still a jarring reminder on Wednesday of how very weird weird things have become when the world wound up with Trump “tweeting” an official proclamation that transgendered people cannot serve in the military.
This is the sort of commonsensical policy that wouldn’t have been considered the least bit controversial not so very long ago, but these days things are more complicated. Men who think themselves women and women who think themselves men are now a fashionable cause, and concerns about the nation’s military readiness don’t have the same cachet, so the “tweeted” proclamation stirred a big fuss in all the papers. Throw in all the weirdness that always comes with Trump and his “tweets,” and it’s all the more complicated.
Clans and tribes and kingdoms and nation-states have been waging war against one another for long so that humanity has learned a thing or two about how to do it, and one of the lessons is that successful wars have almost always been waged by armies of stout-hearted and self-identified men who will fight for the rights they adore. Which is not to say there haven’t been some ferocious women warriors over the past millennia, and we’re unashamed to admit there have been more than a few of them who would put us to shame on a battlefield, but the general rule about leaving the fighting to the men-folk has always proved generally reliable. The rights of those outlier ferocious women warriors began to supersede considerations of military readiness even before the weird age of President Barack Obama, however, and by now the most up-to-date notions of social justice are given greater weight than the most time-tested notions of how to win a war.
After so many years of modern America treating its military as a social engineering experiment rather than a war-winning enterprise, it’s no surprise the conversation lately turns to talk about the even further outlying men who think themselves women and the women who think themselves men and their rights to serve in the military. By the social scientists’ count the number of transgendered people in America is measured with a percentage point and a couple of zeros of the general population, and despite the dizzying number of number of dizzyingly diverse people we know we’d put the number even lower, and we have to believe than only a fraction of that already small number are pining for military service, but these relatively infinitesimal few are what all the fuss is about.
Which is not to say that any of them wouldn’t put us to shame on a battlefield, and we’ll concede that in these weird times the current poster boy or girl for transgenderism is a self-identified woman who once won the gold medal in the men’s Olympic decathlon, which is way more macho than anything we ever did, but we still go by the general reliability of the time-tested general rules of warfare. Go ahead and call us old-fashioned, but we also have our doubts about the current vogue for those outlier men who think themselves women and women who think themselves men. We can’t recall who to credit with the observation that someone who thinks he’s Napoleon is still considered crazy, while someone thinks he’s Josephine is now to be indulged in the conceit, but it seems apt. Quite frankly, all this post-gender talk strikes us as another another one of post-religious manias that keeps popping up.
Which is not to say we lack compassion for these few folks, but rather to say that lopping off their healthy organs and surgically mutilating their genitals doesn’t necessarily strike us as the most compassionate response to their situation. Way back in the ’50s the first so-called sex-change operation was performed in Sweden on George Jorgensen, who had been honorably discharged from the United States Army after World War II, and a short time  later he or she became the popular nightclub chanteuse Christine Jorgensen, and despite his or her celebrity it seemed pretty weird to almost everybody at the time, and probably still strikes most Americans as kind of creepy. Since then there have been a lot of other so-called sex-change surgeries, the first of which was performed in America at the august Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, but by now the record shows that the patients mostly haven’t been happy about it, and have had much higher mental illness and alcoholism and drug abuse and suicide rates than the general population. The rate of regret is even higher than for such less-drastic measures as tattoos and plastic surgery, and as a result that august hospital’s chief surgeon now refuses to lop off healthy organs or otherwise surgically mutilate a patient’s genitals.
All of which seemed quite commonsensical to pretty much everybody until as recently as last summer, when even the Republican nominee for president was inviting that former men’s Olympic decathlon champion to use the women’s room at his Trump Tower, and chiding the Republican convention that had nominated him for its old-fashioned ways, and blasting the Republican North Carolina’s decision to restrict men’s rooms to biologically male people as a bad business decision. Trump is still on solid ground for insisting that America’s military and its war-winning mission is different than the restrooms at Trump Tower or a North Carolina basketball tournament, but by now he’s ceded an awful lot of ground in the ongoing culture wars.
By “tweeting” his executive order rather than seeking the military’s full-throated support for a congressional action on the matter, Trump has also passed up a chance for a national commonsensical consensus and allowed an inevitable Democratic successor to easily undo his slightly executive-ordered policy. That’s earned the wrath of a lot of old-fashioned Republicans on the right, even as more up-to-date Republicans embrace the modern sensibilities about all this stuff, and it just goes to show what weird times we’re now living in. For now, it looks a lot  like the same “Tweet”-first-and-ask-questions-later mess Trump made of his otherwise commonsensical plan to restrict travel from countries where lots of people want to blow up America.
We’ll continue to wish our best for all those men who think themselves woman and the women who think themselves men, hope like hell America somehow wins its inevitable next war, and in the meantime we’ll continue to note what weird times these are.

— Bud Norman

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

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

— Bud Norman

Move Along, Nothing to See Here

A Kuwaiti-born immigrant named Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez shot and killed four servicemen on Thursday at a recruiting center and another military site in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but don’t jump to any conclusions that it might have anything to with Islam. There’s always a chance it was caused by some Confederate battle flag emblazoned on a passing pick-up, or something that some Republican presidential candidate might have said about immigration, and in any case it couldn’t have had anything to do with what everyone knows is a religion of peace.
By now the ritual is all too familiar. Someone named Muhammad commits mass murder at a military installation or some other obviously symbolic target, has announced to his friends and the internet and anyone who will listen that everything he does is motivated by his understanding of Islam, millions of Muslims with a similar understanding of the faith “tweet” their congratulations or celebrate in the streets or otherwise express their approval of the slaughter, and polite opinion and the official pronouncements insist that it has nothing to do with Islam. By now the far more impolite average American’s instinctive opinion is that it must have something to with Islam, somehow or another, but the official record and the most massive of the mass-media will somehow veer around this increasingly inescapable conclusion.
This particular Muhammad died during his mass-murder spree, which will absolve the authorities of the unpleasant necessity of charging him with terrorism rather than the mere mass-murder charges that might be more conveniently brought against someone motivated by a Confederate battle flag or a Sarah Palin graphic or some other domestic provocation that doesn’t require apologetics, and although the investigation will likely be forced to concede that Islam did have something to do with it  somehow or another the carefully-worded report won’t require widespread news coverage. In the meantime the four Americans who were gunned down while serving their country in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will be easily forgotten as the four Americans who were gunned down while serving their country in Benghazi, Libya, and there will be stories about how America hasn’t suffered 9/11-style attack during the current administration, just the occasional pesky cases of “work place violence” at Fort Hood and shootings at a recruiting center in Arkansas and this one in Tennessee and cars being driven into pedestrians in a couple of towns and a beheading in Oklahoma and unspeakable carnage all across areas of Iraq that had once been pacified and almost civilized by American military might, and much celebration that the Iranian theocracy and its very bellicose understanding of Islam has promised the Great Satan that it won’t get a nuclear weapon for at the least the ten years or so that it will take them to acquire the ballistic missile systems that America’s politely indulgent understanding of Islam has now allowed to buy from their newly-acquired Russian and Chinese friends.
There are no doubt many Muslims who do subscribe to that Religion of Peace of version of Islam that we keep hearing about, every time some some self-proclaimed Muslim commits mass murder, and we wish them well. The best possible outcome would be that they somehow convince their co-religionists to reach a similarly placid understanding of Islam, and persuade them to live in peace with a western world that is anathema to their generations-old understanding of right and wrong, and are able to point to America’s capitulation to a Shiite Iranian nuclear bomb and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy in Egypt and elsewhere as proof of its good intention, but barring that unlikely possibility some frankness will be required among the both the officials and their mass-media accomplices. A widely-held understanding of Islam is utterly incompatible with the values that both the left and the right of western civilization, is causing the all-too-frequent deaths of Americans and far more massive bloodshed throughout the rest of the world, and cannot be peacefully be resolved without capitulations to a medieval theology that goes way beyond repealing same-sex marriage and women’s suffrage and is offended even by the more old-fashioned morality of the Christian right, and some resistance must be offered.
We can’t say where to begin the bombings, as the threat is by now far too diffuse and well-armed in the deserts and well-hidden in the suburbs and too politely ignored by official pronouncements and mass-media commentary, but at a frank acknowledgement that this has something to do with Islam, somehow or another, would be a good start.

— Bud Norman

A Tough Crowd at West Point

President Barack Obama is fond of giving speeches at colleges, where he can still rouse some of the old rock star enthusiasm among the empty-headed multi-cultural studies kids who haven’t yet returned to their parents’ basements and started paying off their student loan debts with their tips from the artisanal sandwich shop, but for some reason the military academies have always proved a tough crowd. Wednesday’s commencement speech at West Point, which was much ballyhooed as a major foreign policy address, is the latest example.
The sympathetic reporters at CNN described the response from the graduating cadets as “pretty icy,” while the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail generously upgraded that to “tepid,” but we would dispense with the meteorological metaphors all together and say the infrequent and scattered applause was perfunctory or grudgingly polite. According to CNN this was because the speech was “philosophical,” rather than the obscenity-laced sort of battle cry that George C. Scott delivered at the start of “Patton,” we presume, and aside from the stony silence the network didn’t find much fault with the oration. We suspect the reaction had more to do with the absolute balderdash that the speech contained, and that those rigorous engineering courses required at the academy have somehow enabled the graduates to think clearly through the speech’s frightening implications.
In keeping with commencement speech custom, Obama began with a jocular reference to the campus sporting teams, an apparent reference to his “Choom Gang” days as an addled schoolboy, and the obligatory flattering of the graduates. He then flattered himself with a suspiciously rosy assessment of the world today, including a “growing economy that can provide opportunity for everyone who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home,” a decreasing dependence on foreign energy, freedom being championed in public squares around the world, and unrivaled American military supremacy. The record number of people who have given up looking for work, the president’s blocking of oil pipelines and closing of federal lands from drilling and efforts to regulate the tracking revolution that have made us more energy independent, the routine crushing of those who speak for freedom in an increasingly chaotic and less democratic world, and the president’s proposal to reduce America’s military spending to a level less than the annual debt payments all went unmentioned but apparently not unnoticed by the icy audience.
From that point the president started talking tough, bravely battling the usual straw men opposing his policies. There are those who would ignore the rest of the world and those who would launch constant wars against it, the president helpfully explained, but in his wisdom he has found a third option. America will continue to lead and enforce international order, he assured the graduates, but he established some rather strict criteria for when it would use military force to do. The country will still respond to a direct attack against the homeland or the country’s “core interests,” although it is not reassuring that a president feels obliged to offer such assurances, but the president seemed to imply that anything less will be death with by strongly worded statements and hashtags and “multi-lateral actions.” As proof of the wisdom of this approach the president cited Iran’s nuclear endlessly ongoing negotiations over its still-chugging nuclear weapons programs, aid to the Syrian rebels who are being thoroughly routed by the red-line-crossing regime, the sparsely attended recent election in chaotic and menaced Ukraine, and of course the negotiations over those still-kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls that the president mentioned several times, so it’s hard to imagine this getting much applause even from the multi-cultural studies students at the average university.
The scariest part was when the president warned that “We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by the United States Senate…” It’s scary that the president makes mention of the Law of the Sea Convention, which has been a pipe of the dream of the globalist left ever since they started negotiating the thing back in the early ’70s, and has been a dead issue in American politics ever since President Ronald Reagan showed what real foreign policy leadership is by nixing it in ’82. The president says that all of his military advisors believe it will make the country safer, apparently because they’d rather enforce an international border that insists on limits that China and all the other potential major military adversaries dispute, but he also says that every economists agree that bringing another 10 million or unskilled non-English-speaking immigrants into the country will revive the economy. Scarier yet is that the president has announced to China that he’s unable to resist its increasingly belligerent claims on its neighbors territory until the little-known yet widely hated treaty that has been dead since the ’70s is ratified. He might as well announce that we’re unable to help any kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls or other female victims of Islamic radicalism until the Era Rights Amendment is passed.
We don’t wonder why the newly commissioned officers of West Point were so unenthusiastic toward the speech, but of course they weren’t the intended audience. More important to the president were those increasingly anxious supporters who still bother to listen to his speeches, and with a few remnants of the old Bush-era anti-war movement protesting outside the campus with papier mache drones he was anxious to reassure them that although he has to pander to the blood-lusting general public he’s not going all neo-con on them. The tough talk was also intended for the potential adversaries who might be calculating that now’s the time to make that long-desired land grab or smash that long-troublesome foe, but they probably understood the speech as well as those West Point graduates seem to have done. Nervous allies in Kiev, on the bombed-out battlefields of Syria, in the Israeli and Saudi bureaus that are following the Iranian nuclear program, and all over the South China Sea probably offered even less applause.

— Bud Norman

A Swiss Miss

Military life never had much appeal for us, as we are lazy and cowardly and constitutionally disinclined to follow orders, but we’re considering volunteering our services to the Swiss.
Such a radical career change occurred to us on a slow news day when we came across a story about an Ethiopian Airlines flight that was hijacked by its co-pilot and flown to Geneva. These developments were intriguing enough, but an even more striking detail was that French and Italian fighter planes were used to escort the hijacked airliner to the ground because the incident happened after the Swiss Air Force had concluded its business day. It seems the Swiss Air Force strictly observes an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, with an hour-and-half lunch break starting at noon, and anything that threatens Swiss national security during the off-hours is left to more martial nations such as the French and Italians.
That 8 a.m. starting time is somewhat daunting, given our very nocturnal tendencies, but a lengthy lunch break with Swiss cuisine might provide adequate compensation for the inconvenience. The Swiss Army’s famous knives always include a corkscrew, so we assume that the lunch will include a glass or two of wine, and the waitresses will presumably be blond, fair-complexioned, and pleasant-natured. War is hell, as no less an authority than General William Tecumseh Sherman once observed, but a cessation of hostilities at every lunch and dinner time and a good night’s rest following a cup of hot chocolate could make it tolerable.
The chances of avoiding anything remotely resembling war altogether are favorable for a member of the Swiss military, too, given Switzerland’s longstanding policy of strict neutrality. This distinctively Swiss tendency is much celebrated by pacifists everywhere, although we always thought that neutrality toward the Nazis and Communists and assorted other totalitarian evils that were gobbling up their neighbors was taking things a bit too far, but that’s us and we assume it’s more popular with the typical Swiss serviceman. Throw in the high wages and ample benefits that are bound to be offered by such a generous welfare state as Switzerland, and the military recruiters’ job must be easy duty. They might not be interested in out-of-shape fifty-somethings who don’t speak whatever language is spoken in Switzerland, but if they can find any use for our wine-popping skills and waggish wit we’d be tempted by the deal.
On the other hand, perhaps we should just wait for the United States military to catch up with our more progressive European examples. Another three years of radical transformation might well deliver us a unionized and nine-to-five Air Force that doesn’t dare practice weightist and ageist discrimination against out-of-shape fifty-somethings, and we’d be spared the necessity of learning whatever language it is that they speak in Switzerland.

— Bud Norman

Shrewd Military Judgment

There are a lot of opinion polls out lately, some of them suddenly heartening to us rabid right-wing types, but the one that caught our eye was conducted by the good folks at The Military Times. The trade publication for our men and women in uniform found that its readers prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama by a landslide margin.

As if we needed another reason to admire our armed forces, 66 percent of the respondents to the poll favored Romney and only 26 percent would rather retain their current president. There aren’t enough active duty personnel to swing an election, especially when the government has such suspicious troubles getting ballots to them, but the Romney campaign should be shrewd enough to parlay their collective endorsement into a few extra civilian votes.

The military is one of the last remaining institutions that enjoys the public’s respect, after all, and its judgment regarding their Commander in Chief will likely carry some weight with some undecided voters. Although The Military Times stressed that most of the respondents said they were basing their vote on the basis of economic issues rather than military or foreign policy matters, we suspect that’s only because of the armed forces’ traditional reticence about the way wars are being conducted. Soldiers, sailors, and airmen are in the only occupations that currently enjoy full employment, and it’s unlikely they have no strong opinions regarding the president’s unprecedented military strategy of fighting the Afghan war according to a predetermined timetable, his unusual preference for foes over allies, his habit of claiming credit for the successes wrought by the skill and bravery of his troops, or his inability to properly pronounce “corpsman.”

At the very least, the overwhelming support of the troops should help to blunt the Obama campaign’s efforts to portray Romney as a bloodthirsty, war-mongering brute eager to fight the world. If the men and women who would do the fighting aren’t buying it, the people safe at home should be all the more skeptical.

Back when a Republican with an exemplary National Guard record was running the wars, rather than a Democrat with no service record and a clear antipathy to anything military, we used to hear a great deal about “chickenhawks” who had never served in uniform having no right to an opinion regarding the national defense. We’d always counter that we’d be happy to let only active duty military and veterans select the president, but we never got any takers. The Military Times’ poll should make the offer even less appealing to the Democrats.

— Bud Norman

In God We Trust, the Rest of You Not So Much

We right-wingers grouse mostly about the government, and tend to wax enthusiastic about the virtues of the private sector, but deep in our conservatives souls we know that almost every segment of our civilization is decline. A new poll from the Gallup organization, which measured how much trust Americans place in 16 important institutions, suggests that the view is widely shared.

Only the military fared especially well, with 75 percent of the respondents saying they trusted it “a great deal” or “quite a lot” and only 6 percent saying they trust it very little or not at all. The armed forces have traditionally been highly esteemed in Gallup’s annual survey, but scored an unusually high favorability rating this year. We suspect the military’s public image has lately benefited not only from its heroic efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, but also because the media tend to treat its inevitable missteps more calmly when the Commander in Chief is from the right party.

Small business enjoys a respectable approval rating of 63 percent, with only 6 percent saying they trust it little or not at all, but that likely reflects a romanticized notion of the humble mom-and-pop store. Many small businesses are lousy, of course, and in some cases the proprietors are also lousy parents, but they’re rarely portrayed as villains in the popular culture and the failings of a small business are not big news. The police are trusted a great deal by 56 percent and not trusted at all by only 16 percent, which is not bad for an institution that hands out speeding tickets, but there are almost certainly some police forces out there that are bringing down the average.

Organized religion is trusted a great deal by only 44 percent of Americans, with 26 percent saying they trust it very little or not at all. Those numbers probably overstate how secularized America has become, as the non-trusting category will include many evangelicals who regard the mainline churches as too squishy and many mainline congregants who regard the evangelicals as too rigid, but it does suggest that Americans realize that the churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples have all failed in their mission of inculcating moral behavior.

The medical system fares even worse, with only 41 percent expressing a great deal of trust, a 2 percent decline from last year, and 26 percent having little or no trust in the institution. It is not surprising that the government’s efforts at reforming the medical system have not improved its standing, given that the presidency and the Supreme Court are even less trusted, with only 37 percent having a great deal of trust in either institution, and a full 36 percent having very little or no trust in the presidency. The public schools and the criminal justice system, two institutions that are increasingly intertwined, are trusted a great deal by only 29 percent of Americans. Newspapers are trusted a great deal by a mere 25 percent of Americans, television news by 21 percent, and it’s likely that most of those are products of the public schools.

Banks and big business are trusted by only 21 percent, which is not surprising given the way they have been demonized in the pop culture for the past many decades, but organized labor is trusted by the same low number of Americans despite a sustained propaganda campaign, so it’s hard to guess who people will be rooting for in a strike. Health maintenance organizations, which we had previously assumed were part of the medical system, are trusted a great deal by only 19 percent of Americans, perhaps because there are no mom-and-pop HMOs.

Congress comes in last, as it has every year regardless of which party holds the majorities, and with both parties currently reigning in one chamber there is now something for every to distrust, but the 13 percent of respondents who have a great deal of trust is nonetheless a damning number.

All of these results suggest that Americans are a suspicious lot, perhaps even more so than is healthy, but they also indicate that many of our institutions are not very trustworthy. Reversing the country’s decline will require major changes in our government, but it will also require major changes in the broader culture, and we can’t trust the government to do that.

— Bud Norman