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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

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A Brief History Lesson for the Young Democratic Whippersnappers on the Other Side of the Generation Gap

Ryan Grim strikes us as another one of those wild-eyed liberals looking to take over the Democrat party, and the sort of revisionist young whippersnapper who still calls President Ronald Reagan “a C-list actor,” but we think his op-ed piece in Sunday’s Washington Post correctly identifies the current fissure among the Democrats as a generation gap.
So far as we can tell Grim is a bit too young remember the late ’60s and early ’70s when the hippies and the hard hats were fighting it out on the streets and “generation gap” was a familiar part of the political lexicon, but he’s familiar enough with Reagan’s landslide victories and the Republican party’s ascendancy in the ’80s to understand why some Democrats are still spooked by it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and front-running Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are all aged enough to remember how President Richard Nixon a landslide over the hippie favorite Democratic nominee Sen. George McGovern in ’72 despite an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam. They remember that the carefully centrist President Jimmy Carter won office in ’76 only because of the Watergate scandal, but was decisively ousted four years later by Reagan, who won a record 49 states in his reelection bid.
They also well remember how many of their longstanding congressional colleagues were voted out along the way. Such liberal lions as McGovern and Sen. Frank Church and Birch Bayh and the most senior Sen. Warren Magnuson from the New Deal era were voted out during the ’70s, and the likes of wild-eyed conservative Rep. Newt Gingrich were voted in. Reagan won a third term of sorts when his Vice President George H.W. Bush, and any Democrat old enough to remember that still shudders at the thought. President Bill Clinton ended the Republicans’ 12-year White House reign in 92′ and won reelection in ’96, but he ran as a centrist and won by mere pluralities with considerable help from nutcase third-party populist candidate Ross Perot peeling off conservative votes. In ’94 the Republicans even took the House of Representatives after 40 years of Democratic control, a result of Clinton offending the public with such divisive ideas as allowing gays to serve in the military and the government taking a greater role in the health care system, but Clinton won reelection mostly because he and Gingrich had come up with a rare balanced budget and revived the Reagan economic expansion after a short and mild recession.
Republican President George W. Bush succeeded Clinton with a plurality and razor-then electoral majority and then won reelection with a slight majority of the popular, which drove all the Democrats crazy, even though the increasingly wild-eyed conservatives in the Republican party found both Bushes far too centrist for their tastes. President Barack Obama succeeded the second Bush and then easily won reelection, which drove all the Republicans crazy even if the younger of the increasingly wild-eyed Democrats now consider Obama far too centrist for their tastes. All of which explains why such liberal but seasoned septuagenarians as Pelosi and Schumer and Biden are reluctant to veer too far left of the center.
Much younger and less experienced and better-looking and more wild-eyed Democrats as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker now have considerable sway in the Democratic party, and although the aging self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and ripened Massachusetts Sen. Warren are on their side Grim seems correct in surmising that a generation gap will be the story of the Democrats’ upcoming presidential primaries. Grim apparently believes that youthful idealism and its resulting recklessness will eventually overwhelm old age’s hard-earned experience and its resulting caution, and he seems to wish for it, and although we hope he’s wrong we worry he might be right.
At this point in our late middle age we must admit, however begrudgingly, that a lot has changed since Nixon won a landslide reelection but lost a popular culture back in ’72, and that things have changed far even more rapidly ever since. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” that allowed homosexuals to serve in the military so long as they remained closeted cost Clinton the House back in ’94, but it seems quaint in this age of constitutionally guaranteed same-sex marriage. The government intrusion into health care that Clinton’s wife proposed was less ambitious than what Obama wound up getting passed, and lately it polls well, and the Republicans couldn’t come with any alternative they could pass even when they held the White House and both chambers of Congress, so the crazy ideas that these young Democrats are proposing will have some appeal to a significant portion of the population. “Socialism” is no longer the damning term of opprobrium that it was during most of our lives, although it still should be, as far as we’re still concerned, and will probably get a lot more votes than Eugene Debs ever did back in a more sensible era of America.
Which is a shame, especially given the currently wild-eyed state of the Republican party in the era of President Donald Trump. It’s not the admirably wild-eyed conservatism of the Republican party that opposed the New Deal programs President Franklin Roosevelt wrought during his party’s six-decades dominance of American politics, nor is it the centrist and internationalist Republicanism of President Dwight Eisenhower that ended that long reign. It’s not the small government and free markets conservatism of Republican nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater, who lost by a landslide in ’64. Trump has the same tough-talking anti-hippie and pro-law-and-order rhetoric that Nixon won with in ’68, but Nixon won reelection after establishing the Environmental Protection Agency that Trump rails against and abandoning the Gold Standard monetary policy that Trump’s Federal Reserve Board appointees want to reinstate, and Trump has made his disdain Republican nominee back to Reagan quite clear.
Despite a pretty good economy America is adding the same trillion or so to the national debt that Obama was racking up in the wake of a deep and long lasting recession, The Repubicans’ big tax cut bill went mainly to the rich while the poor are probably paying even more for Trump’s tariffs every time they go to Wal-Mart. As bad as Obama was Trump has done even more to buddy up to dictatorships while undermining our the post-World War II military and trading alliances that Eisenhower and both Republican and Democratic presidents wisely established. We also note that his promise of proposing such a wonderful health care policy that your head will spin has not yet been kept.
On the other hand, Trump has outraged those damned Democrats even more than Nixon or Reagan or either of the Bushes ever did, and the more wild-eyed Republicans seem satisfied with that. He’s threatened governmental retribution against the free press and promised to lock up his political opponents, enforced our border laws with extreme cruelty and questioned the legitimacy of any federal judges of Latino heritage, has kinder words for the leaders of Russia and North Korea than he can must for our North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners, and is even coarser than Nixon ever was in his “twitter” denunciations of the damned hippies.
As much as the die-hard fans love it, it’s not at all the conservatism and Republican party we signed up with. With ur old-school sensibilities we’re free press absolutists, and we worry how that Third World “lock ’em up” stuff might play out if the damned Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress yet again. We have nothing against Latino citizens and legal immigrants, and rather enjoy their music and food and construction and road-paving efforts and occasional judicial opinions. We prefer our classically liberal democratic allies to the authoritarian populists popping up around the world, and by now we’re friends with a lot of dope-smoking hippies, and our hard=hat friends are also taking atoke  or two.
Which is not to say that we agree about anything with anyone on the left. Even the aged and relatively wised-up Democrats toward the center have always been too far left for our centrist tastes, and Grim’s favored youngsters strike us as at least as crazy as Trump.
There’s always some hope that the upcoming congressional impeachment investigations will result in some deus ex machina that delivers the Republican party some nominee other than Trump, and that the Democrats won’t go full-blown socialist. We can’t envision any scenario where the budget gets balanced, or any sort of budget actually gets passed and signed into law, or health care becomes universal and inexpensive, or all the ethnic and sexual groups learn to love another, but we hold out hope the center will hold and the republic will somehow persist.
When we were born Eisenhower had reconciled the Republicans with Social Security and most of the rest of Roosevelt’s New Deal,  and until recently the Democrats have only arguing about how much to tax the free markets that Goldwater and Reagan had championed, everyone more or less agreed on the post-war world order that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy and Nixon had sustained, and for the most part it worked out well enough. At this point in our late middle age we believe the sole purpose of the Democratic party is to keep the damned Republicans from imposing their worst ideas on a great nation, and that the Republicans exist solely to save the country from the Democrats dumbest ideas.
For now both parties are seized by a wild-eyed youthful idealism, which we’ve noticed from our reading of history is the most destructive force on the planet, but old age and experience and its resulting caution still stand a fighting chance. We’ll probably wind up casting another futile protest vote on some write-in candidate, but hope the rest of the country chooses as wisely as possible, given the circumstances..

— Bud Norman

An Ill-Fitted President in an Ill-Fitting Suit

On his first day of a state visit to the United Kingdom President Donald Trump committed his usual number of offenses against longstanding diplomatic protocol, continuing his “twitter” war against the mayor of the host city, offering opinions on British political affairs that are none of America’s business and he doesn’t seem to know much about, and taking the occasion to hurl insults and threats from abroad at perceived enemies back home. The worst of it, as far as we’re concerned, was the outfit he wore to a fancy dinner with the Queen of England.
He was wearing a white tie and tales, which is appropriate dress for state dinners with royalty and those other very rare occasions in life when a black tie and tuxedo is insufficiently highfalutin, but surely such a rich man as Trump claims to be could have found a more adept tailor. The suit made him look far fatter than he and his doctor swear he is, even more so than his golf gear, with the coat cut higher and showing conspicuously more white cummerbund than any of the more elegant-looking other male guests, and along with Trump’s behavior on the trip it put us in mind of Burgess Meredith’s portrayal of the “Penguin” on the old “Batman” television series.
To be fair we must admit that only Fred Astaire ever looked great in such a get-up, and that we are by no means fashion icons ourselves, but we couldn’t resist joining all the jibes that many of the commenters at various internet news sites were making. Our observation might seem one of those ad hominem attacks we routinely accuse Trump of making, but on his first day in London he making fun of the mayor’s diminutive height, and his fans seem to that sort of plain-spoken bluntness and cheap shots.
Also, it seemed yet another dispiriting example of how Trump just isn’t very good at this state visit and international diplomacy stuff.
All the past presidents of our by now very long recollection were obviously striving for a certain dignity and decorum and paying exquisitely careful attention to all the infinitesimal details of international diplomacy while abroad, but Trump seems to pride himself on demolishing even the most time-tested traditions. He shoved the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get to the front of a photo at a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, sided with brutal Russian dictator Vladimir Putin over the consensus of his intelligence agencies at a meeting in Helsinki, lavished unnecessary praise on the even more brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un during negotiations in Singapore, and went out of his way to insult the democratically-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a G-7 summit north of the border.
Trump was on his best behavior during the dinner with the Queen and the rest of the royal family. He wisely refrained from reiterating his opinion that the recent biracial American member of the clan is “nasty,” which he now denies saying even there’s audio evidence that he did, and he seemed quite sincere in such over-the-top flattery of the Queen that she was probably embarrassed about it. Trump clearly loves pomp and circumstance, a tendency he has said he learned from his Scottish-born mother, who seems to have had a greater affection for the royals than your average Scot, and although he’s willing to wage petty and pointless feuds with all of the democratically-officials in the UK and the rest of the western world he clearly appreciates the red carpet treatment he routinely gets from the world’s hereditary monarchies and dictatorships.
The rest of Trump’s brief stay in England will include mass protests by a public that has about an 18 percent approval of him, including a blimp that portrays Trump as an obese and diapered baby holding a “twitter” machine, as well as outgoing and up-and-coming politicians who won’t be so polite as the royal family, and we expect that as usual he’ll want to punch back ten times harder. He’s got stops in France and other European locations where he’s also widely unpopular with both the public and their democratically-elected leaders, and we expect it will all play better with the fans back home than with our erstwhile crucial trading and military partners.
Trump fans love his bold willingness to disdain the longstanding traditions they believe has constrained America’s power, even though the past decades of business as usual have actually made America the economic and military and cultural leader of the free world in the post-World War II era, but we think there’s still something to be said for dignity and decorum and friendly relationships with the democratically-elected world leaders rather than its most brutal dictators. There’s also something to be said for hiring a tailor who won’t make you look so fat.

— Bud Norman

Amateur Hour on the World Stage

President Donald Trump was in Japan over the Memorial Day weekend, negotiating all sorts of foreign policy deals around the world, and we must admit it made us nervous.
Trump won office with an electoral majority despite a lack of any political or foreign policy experience on the promise that he’s the best deal-maker anyone’s ever seen, and his sizable number of die-hard supporters still believe it, but we maintain the doubts we’ve had all along. In his best-selling and ghost-written self-help book “The Art of the Deal” Trump bragged about how he got the better of talk-show host and game-show mogul Merv Griffin to acquire what was re-branded as the Trump Taj Mahal casino in New Jersey, but that soon went belly-up and has since been demolished. He boasted of how he won an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League, but his New Jersey Generals and the rest of the United States Football League won only $3 in damages, and soon went belly-up. Trump Airline, Trump University, Trump Vodka, Trump Magazine and various other Trump-branded businesses have proved even more expensively unsuccessful deals.
Trump never seemed to learn anything from any of it, except not to put his own money on the line, and none of it was adequate preparation for dealing with the devious likes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un or Russian dictator Vladimir Putin or the dictatorial mullahs of Iran. So far Trump has had more contentious relationships with the democratically-elected governments of our longtime North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies and western civilization trading partners, and he hasn’t yet come up with any deals with anyone that much impress us.
He did negotiate a slightly better deal with Canada and Mexico over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said was the difference between the worst and best trade deals ever negotiated, but it remains to be seen if he can get any of the Democrats and quite a few Republicans from states hit hard by Trump’s wars against Canada ad Mexico to ratify it. There’s nothing on the table about a trade deal with the European Union, nor with the United Kingdom that is currently involved with a difficult divorce from the EU, and for now Trump doesn’t have much on the trade front to brag about, although we’re sure he’ll keep bragging.
That’s just money, of course, but on the arguably more important matters of war and peace Trump seems even more out of his depth. Even during the campaign Trump admitted to his die-supporters that he had only nice things to say about world leaders who had nice things to say about him, and so far that seems have guided his foreign policy toward the despotic but very flattering governments of Saudi Arabia and Russia lately North Korea, among other rogue nations. Our democratically-elected military allies in NATO and SEATO and trading partners in the EU and NAFTA have been disinclined to be so obsequious, on the other hand, which seems to explain why we’re tied up in interminable negotiations.
Which brings us at long last to what we set out to write about, which is the very nervous situation on the Korean peninsula, and how very nervous Trump makes us feel about that.
The situation on the peninsula has been nervous since several years before we born. In the immediate aftermath of World War II the Soviet Union was spreading communism to the west and south, the commies won control of China shortly after that and was infecting countries all over southeast Asia, and a Marxist dictatorship took over in the northern half of the Korean peninsula. America intervened in the horribly bloody war between North and South Korea to protect its democratic and capitalistic allies in the region, and although it ended in a desultory draw with the Chinese-backed North Korea along the demilitarized zone, South Korea is still a free country, with a modern economy and very sexy popular culture, and Japan and the rest of free and mostly thriving southeast Asia continue to do a mutually beneficial business with us, while North Korea is mired in poverty and darkness while developing a transcontinental nuclear missile capability.
Maintaining that tenuous status quo has been official American foreign policy ever since, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, and although North Korea has crept ever closer to nuclear power status it has thus far worked out well enough, as nervous as it’s been. The Trump administration is of course more ambitious than that, and months ago we were assured via “Twitter” that we could sleep soundly at night without fear of a nuclear exchange with North Korea. After some very provocative missile tests by North Korea toward South Korea and Japan, as well as one that could have reached the west coast of the United States, Trump started off the negotiations by threatening “fire and fury like no one’s ever seen,” and taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “rocket man” and joking about Kim’s height and and weight. That led Kim to the negotiating table with Trump, along with some preceding flattering letters by Kim, and when Kim tentatively agreed to a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula during a summit in Singapore Trump “tweeted” about his triumph.
The critics quibbled that all three generations of Kim dynasty dictators had been seeking the prestige of a seat at the negotiating table on any terms they could get with an American president or other western civilization leader since the stalemate of the war, that the Kim regime had only tentatively agreed to a vague term about “denuclearization” that it clearly took to mean the withdrawal of the land-and-sea-and-air-based nuclear threat that America posed to North Korea, and the summit didn’t make make them sleep any more soundly at night. For a while Trump could crow that at least North Korea wasn’t making any more missile tests, but that claim went belly-up by the time Trump landed in Japan.
Trump’s appointees to all of the intelligence agencies as well as his national security agree that North Korea has recently been testing medium-range missiles that could deliver a nuclear warhead to a target 300 miles away, but Trump shrugged it off with a “tweet.” The “tweet” read:
“The North Koreans fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
This might reassure those with an abiding faith in President Donald Trump, but it’s going to keep the rest of the world up at night. Those “small weapons” North Korea fired off couldn’t reach any of Trump’s properties on the west coast of the United States, but they’re well within range of Tokyo or Seoul, and we can well understand why the entire American foreign policy establishment and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or South Korean President Moon Jai In or Trump’s other polite hosts on this foreign policy junket are less sanguine. Trump’s trust in the vaguely-worded promises of such a brutal dictator as Kim confound us, but then again Kim has never written any flattering letters to us. Trump admittedly smiles Kim is taking potshots against Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, whose name Trump initially misspelled, and he doesn’t seem to mind that yet another brutal dictatorship is campaigning on his behalf.
Meanwhile Trump is stuck with a decades-old beef with a perhaps nuclear-armed and in any case militarily-formidable Iran, which is a major player in a Middle Eastern theater of conflict that Trump clearly wants no part of. The dictatorial mullahs who run Iran have nothing flattering to say about Trump, but they’re backed by Russian dictator Putin, who seems to have a swell mutual admiration society going with Trump, so there’s no telling how that might work out. There are also all those ongoing negotiations with our longstanding democratically-elected yet insufficiently obsequious allies that haven’t been yet been worked out.
Go right ahead and accuse of us being deep-state globalist establishmentarians, or suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, but at this point we place no faith in the president’s self-proclaimed unprecedented genius to work this all out.

— Bud Norman

If It’s Doomsday, This Must be Belgium

President Donald Trump’s die-hard fans probably loved his performance Wednesday at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Brussels, as he gave all those freeloading Euro-trash leaders the tough talk that always goes over so well at the endless campaign rallies, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin probably enjoyed it as well. Most of the rest of the world, though, shuddered.
All but two Republican Senators and every single Republican in the House of Representatives preemptively voted for resolutions that affirmed America’s commitment to the NATO alliance Trump was once again criticizing on the way to the summit. When Trump started the meetings off with a rambling breakfast rant about Germany being “captive to Russia” because of a natural gas pipeline project, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and NATO ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson and chief of staff John Kelly sat next to him with the same embarrassed look and awkward posture of the wife of a drunken husband spoiling an otherwise cordial  cocktail party. Unless you really relished the video of Trump socking it to the Euro-trash, it’s hard to see what America got out of it.
Trump did get the rest of the NATO members to reaffirm their commitment to increase defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product in the coming years, which they’d all be working toward since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine long before Trump was elected, and the NATO general secretary generously gave Trump all the credit, but then Trump insisted they immediately start spending 4 percent, which is even more than the 3.58 percent that America spends on defense. Trump is probably right that the pipeline deal between Germany and Russia was a bad idea, but of course he vastly overstated Germany’s reliance on Russian energy, and it’s unlikely he’ll convince German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was a literal captive of Russia when she grew up in East Germany, to back out during the NATO summit. We figure it’s even more unlikely that he’ll press the issue with Putin during an upcoming summit with the Russian dictator that he never seems to criticize.
All of the NATO members except for Turkey are bona fide democracies, except for Turkey, whose autocratic leader Trump never criticizes, and we doubt those country’s leaders will persuade their voters to accept the tax hikes or cuts in other government services to pay for an immediate quadrupling of defense to mollify Trump, who is widely reviled around the world as a bully and the very embodiment of an ugly American. Trump has some legitimate grievances with the the NATO arrangement, but every sane observer in the western world still acknowledge its existential importance, and his tactless style of diplomacy makes it harder for the essential alliance to reach a satisfactory resolution of these longstanding squabbles.
The die-hard fans and the Russian dictator love it, though, and we’re not sure which explains Trump’s rants. Despite the fissures in an alliance that won the Cold War and has mostly resisted Russia’s revanchist ambitions Trump’s rhetoric somehow delights those Americans who resent those smarty-pants Euro-trash countries, and we don’t doubt that figures in his calculations. There’s an ongoing special counsel investigation into the Russian meddling in America’s past presidential election that pretty much only Trump and his most die-hard fans and the Russian dictator accept as an actual fact, and we’d hate to think that past shady dealings with the Russkies is why Trump seems intent on undoing a post-war world order of trade relations and diplomatic alliances.

— Bud Norman

The All-Too-Familiar News Gets Worse

The latest horrific American mass shooting got most of the air time and front page headlines, as it should, but there was also plenty of intriguing news about the “Russia thing” on Thursday.
Rod Rosenstein is a life-long Republican who was appointed to his post as America’s deputy attorney general by putatively Republican President Donald Trump, but you wouldn’t have guessed that by the treatment he received from the Republicans during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Because Trump’s pick for Attorney General was obliged to recuse himself from the “Russia thing” Rosenstein has wound up in charge of a special counsel investigation into the matter, and so far he’s letting it proceed without interference, and these days that’s a considered a betrayal of the only Republican principle that matters, which is loyalty to Trump above all else.
Rosenstein was accused of unlawfully withholding information from Congress, even though he’s handed over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and has a strong argument that the law forbids him from turning over what has been withheld. Based on a Fox News report Rosenstein was accused of “intimidating” congressional investigators with threats of subpoenas of e-mails and phone calls, but he plausibly asserted that Fox News was wrong and got a big laugh by noting that “you can’t subpoena phone calls.” South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy angrily insisted that the special counsel investigation that has already numerous indictments and several guilty pleas come to a quick because it’s going for on a year, and Rosenstein was polite enough not to respond that Gowdy’s investigation of the deadly fiasco at Benghazi went on for two-and-a-half without proving anything but the obvious-from-the-outset conclusion that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been fatally incompetent but not at all criminal in their handling of the matter.
Fox News viewers and talk radio listeners probably enjoyed the pummeling they perceived, but we thought Rosenstein punched back quite effectively. In any case, Rosenstein is clearly defiant about allowing the special counsel investigation to proceed without interference, and if the House Republicans try to prevent that they’ll be in for an awful news cycle and a damning verdict from history. Thursday brought more proof, added to all that’s piled up over the past couple of years, that there’s something fishy about the “Russia thing” that demands a special investigation.
The American Broadcasting Company broadcast some pretty persuasive pictures of some some pretty suspicious Russians enjoying their elite access to Trump’s inauguration parties, and the news that the special counsel is scrutinizing all of them.
Buried deep in the news were the finalized details of a planned meeting between Trump and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, and all the numerous reasons our nervous allies and our own skittish selves are worried about that. Trump himself “tweeted” that Russia denies it had anything to do with the last election, andhe wondered why his Justice Department is more concerned with that “Russia thing” “witch hunt” rather than all the crimes his vanquished political opponents should clearly be locked up for by now. Given that all of the intelligence agencies and the people he picked as Federal Bureau of Investigation director and Central Intelligence Agency director and Defense Secretary and Secretary of State and Attorney General agree that Russia is brazenly lying to him, this is not reassuring.
At Axios.com they have a round-up of media reports about Trump telling our most longstanding military allies and trading partners at a recent Group of Seven meeting that “(North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is as bad as (North American Free Trade Agreement)” as a rip-off of the United States, and that Russia probably should be occupying Crimea because so many people speak Russian there. Axios.com is liberal but reliably reality-based internet news publication, and given Trump’s many displeased public pronouncements about our traditional military allies and trading partners in the G-7 and all of his fulsome praise for the dictator of a traditional adversary we see no reason to doubt a word of it. Thursday also brought news from The Washington Post that Trump tried to convince French President Emmanuel Macron to leave the European Union and strike a friendly unilateral deal with America.
The summit with Russia’s dictator should prove at least as friendly as his recent summit with the even more brutal North Korean dictator, where Trump traded fulsome praise and security guarantees in exchanges for the same vague promises the third-generation dictatorship has broken countless times. It will certainly be friendlier than that last G-7 summit with our most longstanding military allies and trading partners, where Trump went out of his way to offend everyone but that wacky populist in Italy.
Trump won’t be pressing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin about that “Russia thing,” or Russia’s occupation of a significant part of a nation whose sovereignty America is obliged by treaty to respect, and he’s apparently cool with Putin’s attempts to undermine the military alliances and trading partnerships that have made the West so dominate in the post-World War II and especially the post-Cold War eras, and he’s fine with Putin’s pal and brutal dictator Bassar al-Asssad staying in power in Libya, so they should get along fine. Now that Trump’s branded vodka is long gone from the marketplace he might even negotiate a trade good deal for lower-priced Stolichnaya, which is the good stuff and will surely come in handy someday soon, but other than we can’t see what the boastful deal-maker hopes to get out of it.
Which strikes us as fishy, given what an adversarial dictatorship Russia is and the conclusions of every Trump administration official except Trump that it did play a nefarious role in our last election, and everything else about Trump’s foreign policy is similarly fishy. The special counsel has Trump’s clearly Russia-tied former campaign manager in jail, has secured a guilty plea from Trump’s clearly Russia-tied national security advisor, Trump’s son has published an e-mail chat that admitted he and his brother-in-law and the campaign manager with someone he understood to be from the Russian with an offer to interfere in the election. and there’s so much else that’s fishy about it we want a special investigation to keeping looking into it.

— Bud Norman

A Not-So-Innocent Abroad

President Donald Trump’s second official foreign tour hasn’t yet gotten to the juicy part, which will be today’s long-awaited face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it’s already generating plenty of news.
The trip shrewdly began in Poland, where Trump could expect a much-needed welcoming reception. Poles have been favorably inclined to Republican American presidents since at least the days of Ronald Reagan, whose staunch cold warrior stance did much to liberate Poland from the the totalitarian rule of the Soviet Union, and these days their government has a nationalist and protectionist and anti-immigration bent and is waging a war on the local media that make it all the more inclined to embrace such a Republican as Trump. With fans bused in from the Polish hinterlands, Trump delivered a scripted oration denouncing Russian meddling in Ukraine and elsewhere that revved up a huge Polish crowd and confounded the American media.
There was a brief news conference with the American media, though, and of course there were questions about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia that has been a bigger story here than it’s probably been in Poland. Standing next to the Polish head of state, Trump reiterated his view that no matter what his intelligence agencies say Russia might or might not have meddled in the past election to Trump’s benefit, and that if they did it was all the fault of President Barack Obama for letting it happen, and besides everyone does it, and we’re not sure how that will play. There’s no telling what the Poles will make of it, especially when you take into account the press crackdowns on fake news we’ve been reading about, but here in the states all of the putatively fake but still-free press was highlighting that Trump seemed more concerned about Putin’s meddling in Ukraine than his meddling in America’s past election.
All of which makes today’s face-to-face and officially bi-lateral meeting with Putin all the juicier, of course, and it was already juicy enough. That robustly anti-Russian speech Trump gave to the adoring Polish crowd included a robust and widely applauded affirmation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s mutual defense clause, which was conspicuously absent from his big oration on his first European and clearly annoyed all our western European NATO allies, but the following press conference probably exacerbated their more general annoyance. Most of those NATO allies have lately survived challenges by the same nationalist and protectionist and anti-immigration impulses that have lately prevailed in Poland in America, and have come up with some proposed globalist free trade arrangements that leave America out and rival the economic clout of the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump has threatened to dissolve, so the geo-political and global economic implications of that Putin meeting are pretty darned complicated.
If you’ve been following the fake-or-not coverage of that whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, it’s exponentially more complicated yet. Russia has lately been joining with China to propose that America abandon a longstanding alliance against with South Korea against the North Korean government that just launched a missile test that might deliver a nuclear strike against Alaska, and Trump had plenty of things to say about both regimes during his campaign, all of which have been changed since, so todays big meeting will be damned juicy.
The meeting with Putin will take place in Germany as part of the G-20 summit of the world’s twenty biggest economies, and Trump can’t expect such a friendly reception. There are already angry and violent protests against the globalist world order, which are too angry and stupid to realize that Trump is a sort-of ally, and of course all the establishment types of western Europe have a lingering disdain for Trump since his last foreign trip. There’s little chance that Trump will charm or bully Putin into abandoning North Korea, less chance that he’ll take a firm stand with Putin to defuse all that domestic talk about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia, and no chance at all he’ll come home to the heroic welcome he found in Poland.
The best-case scenario is the least juicy, with Trump and Putin having a boring feeling-out meeting that is full of sound and fury yet signifying nothing, but given the personalities involved that seems unlikely.

— Bud Norman

What Could Go Wrong?

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

— Bud Norman

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Vive La France, Or What’s Left of It

The big news on Sunday was from France, of all places, where what’s left of the global establishment prevailed in a presidential election over the rising global anti-globalist populist movement. No one in France expects the election will herald a glorious new age in that long-declining country, given that it was a choice between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, but the rest of the world is still debating what it might mean everywhere else.
Emmanuel Macron won by a comfortable 66-34 margin, which is even more comfortable than all the much-maligned polls had predicted, by running as a putatively independent candidate was was “neither left nor right.” He was a longtime member of the Socialist Party, which is one of the two major parties and the closest equivalent of the Democratic party, but had shed the party label when the Socialist incumbent reached an eye-popping 4 percent approval ratings, and would be considered far-left by even current American standards, but he could plausibly claim the centrist position in France. He’s a former investment baker who’s more comfortable with free market capitalism than Democratic runner-up and self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, more unequivocally pro-North Atlantic Treaty Organization than the Republican president, and takes a pro-free trade position while promising restrains on all the regulatory meddling from Brussels.
Macron is also 39 years old, making him the youngest leader of France since Napoleon Bonaparte, which has been a while, and he’s got a 64-year-old wife, which the polls show endeared him to a certain demographic of the French electorate. All politics is local, too, and France is so far outside our locality that we can’t imagine what other oddball issues might have played a role in the election, but so far as we can tell from this far-off vantage point his biggest advantage was that he running against Le Pen.
All the international media described her as the “far-right” candidate, which is accurate enough in an international context, but that doesn’t translate well into American. She was outspokenly opposed to unfettered immigration from the Islamic world and stridently insistent the immigrants conform to traditional French values, and opposed to the infringements on French sovereignty imposed by the European Union, and didn’t cotton to all the free trade involved, so even much of the talk-radio segment of America’s conservative media embraced her as one of their own. The old conservative hands who still write down their words noted that she was until recently the candidate of her father’s National Front Party, which advocated not just nationalism but an industry-socializing and all powerful socialism, and had only renounced the party affiliation because its Vichy roots and unabashed racism polled poorly, and that she wasn’t any kind of conservative recognizable by American standards.
Everywhere in the international media from the center-right to the far-left is celebrating Macron’s victory, but from here on the plains it seems another premature celebration. Macron’s economic prescriptions don’t seem any more likely to fire up the long-moribund French economy than those of his successor with the 4 percent approval rating, and his blithe attitude toward all those undeniably troublesome Muslim immigrants will likely add to that unprecedented 34 percent that a “far-right” candidate just earned in oh-so-enlightened France. The similarly commonsensical Geert Wilders has also lost in Denmark, where the Muslim problem also brought out a signifiant minority, but the “Brexit” vote that pulled Great Britain out of the European Union and the election of President Donald Trump in America, of all places, suggests that the international center is still being pulled in a nationalist direction.
Our hope is is that Macron will take a calculatedly centrist position on immigration, that political parties all around the world will be similarly commonsensical and not leave the nationalist-socialist types to address it, and that France and the rest of us will continue to limp along that rocky path of freedom.

— Bud Norman

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Winning Friends and Influencing People, Trump Style

Some people voted for President Donald Trump because of his speak-first-and-think-later style, on the theory that all those carefully worded opinions that politicians tend to offer had led only to American carnage so surely some crazed off-the-cuff bluster would set things right, but we suspect that most of the people who voted for him did so in spite of it lest Hillary Clinton win. The prospect of a Clinton presidency remains horrifying, but Thursday offered reminders of how very bad the choices were in the last election.
The National Prayer Breakfast was awful enough, with Trump using the solemn occasion to get a couple of childish digs in against former action movie star and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s low-ratings on the “Apprentice” reality show that made the future president a national celebrity after years of New York tabloid fame. Except for making the President of the United States look petty and vain it didn’t do much harm, and the ongoing feud might help goose the ratings for a show he retains an executive producer credit on, but his reportedly testy telephone conversation with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is more worrisome.
Those reports suggest that Trump spent much of the call boasting in exaggerated terms about his election victory, then went sour when the talk turned to a deal that President Barack Obama had negotiated for America to take in 1,250 middle eastern refugees being held in Australian detention centers, and ended with Trump angrily telling Turnbull that it was the worst conversation he’d had with a foreign leader all day and then abruptly ending it less than halfway through the time that had been scheduled. Spokespeople for both leaders insisted it had all been very cordial and productive, but the reports from multiple media had multiple sources at both ends, the part about Trump’s exaggerated boasting seems altogether believable given his recent on-the-record and on-video speeches, numerous Republican officials did feel obliged to go on the record about their support for Australia, and the “tweet” Trump issued right afterward about the “dumb deal” lend further credence to the reporting, as does pretty much the entirety of Trump’s career.
The deal that Obama negotiated regarding the refugees is arguably dumb, as so many of Obama’s deals were, but given that it only involved 1,250 people, not the 2,000 that Trump claims, and that the agreement also allowed for American officials to screen out the riskier sorts, we can’t see how it’s dumber than giving offense to an Australian Prime Minister and all the people Australians who elected him. America’s friendship with Australia has included their stalwart support through two world wars and a cold war and the hotter wars in Korea and Vietnam and the more recent battles against radical Islam in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, and it makes an American president look vain and petty to cut short a conversation about such a relatively trivial matter. Despite the name Turnbull’s Liberal Party is the Australian counterpart of America’s Republican party, too, and undermining him helps the more anti-American opposition in the same way that Trump’s gruff approach to the Mexican President Pena Nieto helps the far-left Marxist who is lately rising in the polls. It might make Trump look tough to those who voted for him because of his talk-first-and-think-later style, but at this point the rest of the world’s opinion also matters.
No matter how dumb the refugee deal might have been it was an agreement that a longtime friend made with a duly-elected American government, too, and Trump’s penchant for suggesting that such agreements won’t survive our quadrennial elections can’t give his future negotiating partners much long-term faith in what he might come up with. The allies we’ve had in Europe through two world wars and a cold war and the more recent conflicts are already worried about his talk about not honoring the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations that have been so essential to the world’s relative peace and prosperity over the past 70 years, and an unnecessary spat with such a reliable ally as Australia over such a small matter as 1,250 refugees we’re allowed to vet will not be reassuring.

— Bud Norman