Back to the World

The holidays are officially over, with nothing but St. Valentine’s Day and bitterly cold weather awaiting until Easter and the blessed rebirth of spring, and unless your employer is generous with holiday schedules it’s time to get back to dreary business of daily life. Worse yet, there’s more news to contend with.
Congress won’t be back in session for a few more days, and President Donald Trump will remain bunkered in Mar-a-Lago at least as long, but the stock markets are open and the domestic politics continue and the rest of the world is already making its usual trouble.
The New Years news was interrupted by frightening footage of an assault on the American embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian mobs, and although the American security forces were able to repel the attack with substantial damage to the compound but no loss American lives it’s a another problem start to a new year. Trump is “tweeting” threats to make Iran pay a substantial price, the Iranian dictator is “tweeting” back something that roughly translates to “Oh, yeah? What are you going to do about it, punk?,” and there’s no precedent we know of to predict how such high-level diplomacy might work out.
North Korea’s nutcase dictator Kim Jong Un didn’t deliver a threatened “Christmas surprise,” but according to the latest anonymous leaks and official statements from the intelligence agencies he’s quite unsurprisingly continuing his very expensive military build-up, and he’s had some pretty barbed “twitter” taunts of his own. Trump is back to calling Kim “rocket man,” and that’s another example of this newfangled style of high-level diplomacy we don’t know what to make of.
Trump is surely on the job in his Mar-a-Lago war room, despite the allure of the nearby sunny golf course, and on camera he remains cocksure of stable genius. He seems to find himself in some difficult situations, though, and his cocksureness and stable genius seem to have limited his options.
Trump ran as a tough-on-Iran candidate who had presciently warned against the Iraq War in particular and Middle Eastern entanglements in in general, and the Republican primary electorate and then the Electoral College didn’t seem to notice that the two positions were irreconcilable. The contradictions are more stark now, and if Iran decides to escalate the tensions to a point of limited war with the now-bolstered American troop presence in the Middle East, which they’re crazy enough to do, Trump can either seem weak on Iran or bring America into yet another Middle Eastern entanglement. In either case, we’ll expect Trump to explain he handled it perfectly.
Trump broke with five decades of presidential foreign policy by agreeing to meet directly with the North Korean dictatorship, and came back “tweeting” that the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula was at long last over. He claimed that he and Kim had forged not only a friendship but a love affair, and exchanged the most beautiful letters, and he even talked about doing a real estate deal to build hotels and golf courses on North Korea’s beautiful beaches. Now that they’re clearly having a lover’s spat Trump can either play the abused spouse or admit that his personal diplomacy had failed and deal with a level of brinksmanship that none of his more cautious predecessors ever faced.
All this comes shortly before Congress reconvenes and all the branches and various “deep state” agencies of government are back at work, which means all the impeachment stuff will be back in the news and Trump will be largely preoccupied with that. We hope Trump and the rest of you enjoyed a brief holiday respite from the news, because it starts again today.

— Bud Norman

A Slow News Day Spent Mostly Waiting for the Coming Faster News

There was the usual amount of news afoot on Monday, but most of it was about the Academy Awards and a vote in the House of Representatives about the little noticed National State of Emergency and other matters of fleeting interest. Most of the media seemed bracing for the big summit in Vietnam between American President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and what might follow that.
The conventional wisdom at the moment is that “Russia thing” special counsel Robert Mueller is politely withholding his report as a by-the-book courtesy to a president abroad conducting foreign affairs, and that when Trump arrives home something more important than North Korea’s ongoing nuclear program will happen. Try as we might to always be contrarians, this time the conventional wisdom seems wise to us.
Except for a whole lot of pomp and circumstance — or pomp and circumcision, as the great malaprop comic Norm Crosby might have more aptly put it — we don’t expect much earth-shaking news to come out of Trump’s summit with Kim. We mean that in the most optimistic and best way, as we don’t much worry about any mushroom clouds arising as a result, but we also don’t expect it will result in the elimination of the nuclear threat that Trump has already bragged about eliminating. Each of Trump’s national security agency chiefs have given sworn and live-on-television testimony to Congress that they believe Kim is not likely to give up his nuclear program, and submitted a 40-page written report stating the same thing, and although Trump has claimed that they were misquoted and misconstrued by the “fake news” we think they’re likely right. We hold out some hope that our former fourth district Kansas congressman and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on the job, as he’s always seem grounded-in-reality fellow, but our faith was somewhat shaken when he denied to a cable news interviewer that Trump had ever said anything like what he undeniably “tweeted” about the North Korean nuclear threat already being eliminated, and assured us he was still hopeful.
We’re hopeful there at least won’t be any mushroom clouds, but Trump seems rightly worried that whenever the Mueller report lands it will be a significant bombshell. The Democrats now running the House Oversight Committee have impolitely summoned Trump’s soon-to-imprisoned longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to testify while the president is abroad and attending to important foreign policy matters, and that will likely steal some attention. Cohen can’t talk about the “Russia thing” due to the ongoing investigation, but he’s expected to talk about his role in arranging hush money payments to pornographic video performers and nude models so as to get around campaign finance laws, along with other ethically and legally problematic business practices he has witnessed over his many years as counsel to Trump.</div>
It will take quite a breakthrough in Vietnam to keep that out of the news,

— Bud Norman

Worldwide Threats and Other Worries

For those of us clear-eyed realists who are gloom and doom worrywarts, the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” by America’s collective intelligence agencies is always a must-read. This year’s edition is especially worrisome, especially when you notice how starkly different it is from President Donald Trump’s foreign policy priorities.
The 42-page document continues to stress the danger of the Islamic State, although Trump has declared complete victory over the terror gang and announced a withdrawal of all troops from the fight against it in Syria. Trump has proudly “tweeted” that he eliminated any threat from North Korea, but the intelligence agencies agree that the nutcase dictatorship is continuing to pursue a nuclear arsenal. The intelligence agencies also concluded that Iran is keeping to a deal to cease its nuclear weapons development, although the country continues to support all sorts of non-nuclear terrorism, while Trump continues to withdraw America from the deal and hasn’t yet negotiated a better one. Trump has yet to address the problem of Russian’s cyber-meddling in American democracy, and continues to countenance Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s instance he’d never do that, but the intelligence agencies are still alarmed.
The “Worldwide Threat Assessment” also concludes that the past two years of American trade policy and diplomacy have weakened ties with longstanding allies and prompted traditional friends to seek new relationships, and makes only brief mention of the southern border where Trump wants to build a big beautiful wall. As frightening as the 42 pages are, it’s more worrisome yet that Trump seems to disregard them.
Trump and his die-hard fans can assure themselves that these are the same intelligence agencies that have blundered America into endless wars useless alliances, and that they’re a bunch of fancy-pants Ivy League elitists who think they know everything, and that the “Worldwide Threat Assessment” is another example of the nefarious “deep state” conspiring to thwart Trump at every turn. We’ve been assured by Trump that he knows more about the Islamic State than the generals, and more about America’s military alliances than the four-star general who was forced to resign as Secretary of Defense, and that Putin sure seemed sincere when he said that the Russians weren’t meddling in our democracy, and that “my gut sometimes tells me more than anybody else’s brain can tell me.
Go ahead and call us gloom and doom worrywarts, but we are not reassured. Trump’s own appointees have signed off on the “World Threat Assessment” and testified to Congress about it, and they seem far more knowledgeable about world affairs than Trump’s unaccountably educated gut, and we think they’re more interested in a clear-eyed assessment of reality than advancing Trump’s populist political rhetoric. Even Trump’s own appointees agree with the carefully considered bipartisan consensus of expert opinion that has guided American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and although the results have admittedly been imperfect America and the rest of world have generally become more prosperous and free, and there hasn’t yet been a World War III, so we trust the brains of those fancy pants know-it-alls more than we do Trump’s gut.
There’s a lot to worry about in the world these days, but we feel slightly better knowing that at least some of Trump’s appointees and few brave congressional Republicans are worrying about it.

— Bud Norman