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A Bad Weekend in Europe

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

— Bud Norman

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The Fourth of the July on the Korean Peninsula

While America was firing off fireworks to celebrate its independence, the nutcase regime running North Korea was testing yet another intercontinental ballistic missile. According to the United States Pacific Command this one went 1,700 miles into space and landed 580 miles away from its launch off the South Korean coast line, so if you flatten that trajectory it could have landed in Alaska, which complicates what had already been a darned complicated situation for more than 50 years.
President Donald Trump defiantly responded with a “tweet” taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un by asking “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” It’s a valid question, of course, but we doubt Trump’s “tweets” will deter Kim from his nuclear ambitions any more effectively than they’ve deterred Mika Brzezenski from criticizing Trump on her early morning cable news show, and Trump’s “tweeted” promise as president-elect that the North Koreans wouldn’t dare an ICBM test when he got into office obviously hasn’t come to pass. Trump hasn’t yet declared any red lines or stated any demands or ruled out any possible options, which suggests that the more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his well-regarded defense secretary and and his widely-respected national security advisor are exercising some control over the presidential “twitter” feed, and for now we hold out hope for an old friend of ours who lives in Anchorage.
America’s options were always limited to a narrow range of bad to worse, though, and Tuesday’s test seems to have narrowed them further. A pre-emptive first strike on the nutcase North Korean regime’s missile launching sites always carried the risk of devastating retaliatory strikes on nearby American allies South Korea and Japan, the South Korean capital of Seoul could be easily shelled from the the demilitarized zone with World War I-era artillery, and geography has given always the North Koreans an unearned that advantage that made any miscalculation catastrophic. Even if you’re so ruthlessly American First that you’d ignore the humanitarian consequences of bombs landing on such densely populated places as Seoul and Tokyo, you’d have to admit the economic consequences would eventually be felt deep in the heartland. With the North Koreans seemingly in missile range of Alaska and maybe even such densely populated places as Los Angeles and San Francisco, even such a seasoned head and steady hand and instinctive first-strike hawk as well-respected former defense secretary William Perry is saying “it changes every calculation.”
There are still plenty of potential diplomatic solutions, of course, but all of those have always been darned complicated and are lately more complicated yet. China’s President Xi Jiping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement proposing that North Korea refrain from further missile tests in exchange for the United States canceling a planned joint military exercise, which sounds reasonable but is pretty darned complicated. Trump ran on a China-bashing platform but has been remarkably friendly to China ever since Xi visited Mar-a-Lago and granted some long-sought patents to Trump’s daughter’s business, and by now everyone knows that his relationship with Putin is endlessly complicated, and even his relationship with South Korea has been complicated by his protectionist rhetoric and insistence that the country pay more for a missile defense system that might shoot down something pointed at Alaska. That joint Sino-Russian proposal was a hard enough call in any case, aside from the embarrassing fact it had two leaders Trump has sucked up to colluding against him. Accepting would be a sign of weakness, and undermine a longstanding American-South Korean alliance, and refusing might now prove that that catastrophic miscalculation that the the past 50 years of American presidents have sought to avoid.
Given the situation we’re now in there’s argument to be made that all of those presidents of the past 50 years made some miscalculations. President Harry Truman was the first president who waded into the Korean Peninsula, although that was largely a result of his predecessor’s actions and those of presidents going back to Theodore Roosevelts first adventures in Asia, and for all the historical debate at least it ended up with a capitalist and mostly democratic South Korea and all those great K-Pop videos.
Those communist and totalitarian China and North Korea regimes lingered through the Eisenhower and Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and then the cold warrior Republican President Richard Nixon famously went to China. After Vietnam and Watergate the Republican Ford and Democratic Carter administrations maintained the stalemate on the troublesome peninsula, and although the Republican administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush brought down the Soviet Union they didn’t much change the situation with the commies on the Korean peninsula. The Democratic President Bill Clinton struck a bargain with the North Koreans that looks dreadful and will perhaps look worse in the history books, Republican President George W. Bush didn’t rectify that, and the latest headlines in even Te New York Times and The Washington Post admit that Democratic President Barack Obama also failed to definitively solve the problem.
Now we find ourselves with President Donald Trump facing these complications, and hoping those more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his will somehow prevail at least enough to kick this can further down the road.

— Bud Norman

No Sex, but Lies and Videotape

By Wednesday morning it was the conventional wisdom that Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence got the better of Democratic rival Tim Kaine in Tuesday’s night debate, for whatever that’s worth, but by Wednesday evening Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump seemed to be losing the post-debate news cycle against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Even the more respectable pundits on the most polite press acknowledge that Pence made a damning case against Clinton’s damnable record, but even the most die-hard Trump supporters should acknowledge that he had a harder time defending some of Trump’s most outrageous statements.
In several cases Pence simply denied that Trump had ever said any such thing, which seemed to work well enough for the duration of the 90-minute debate, but in the age of ubiquitous audio tape and quick internet access the ploy didn’t last a day. By the time the evening newscasts came along there was footage of Pence shaking his head and insisting that Trump had never praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, followed by footage of Trump saying “Putin’s been a very strong leader for Russia,” Pence dismissing as “nonsense” the claim that Trump was unaware that Putin had invaded Ukraine, followed by footage of Trump assuring an interviewer that Putin “is not going into Ukraine, you can mark it down you, can put it down, you can take it any way you want,” Pence shaking his had and saying “nonsense” again at the claim Trump had advocated a deportation force for illegal immigrants, followed by footage of Trump saying “You’re going to have a deportation force.” Similar denials of videotaped statements regarding punishing women for abortions, allowing nuclear proliferation in Asia and the Middle East, renegotiating the national debt, and a ban on Muslims entering the country also made the list, and both the Clinton campaign and its media allies were having great fun with it.
We suppose Pence could have quibbled that he and Trump had called Putin “strong,” which doesn’t necessarily imply “good,” and he might have explained how Trump meant to say something other than that you could mark it down and write it down that Putin would never invade Ukraine, perhaps that he wouldn’t do again, and he surely wouldn’t have lost any supporters if he’d gone right ahead and doubled down on that deportation force idea. Pence has been a stalwart of the anti-abortion cause long enough to know it doesn’t advocate punishing women who seek abortions, so he could hardly be expected to defend the zealotry of a newfound convert to the cause, and he seems a reasonable enough fellow, so he could hardly be expected to defend that crazy talk about Japan and Saudi Arabia acquiring nuclear weapons, so perhaps a brief-lived denial was the best he could come up with.
Which is a shame, really, because Pence did make a darned damning case against the damnable career of Clinton. The more objective sorts of fact-checkers were begrudgingly obliged to point out of some of Kaine’s own whoppers, too, but for the most part he didn’t try to deny any of it and thus wasn’t caught in some easily disproved denials. Kaine was an obnoxious jerk who frequently interrupted his more presidential-looking opponent throughout the debate, and at times seemed almost unhinged, but it’s hard to imagine that any still-undecided voters will think that a reason to vote for Trump.
Trump can take some solace in though that we’re in a post-factual era of politics when no one pays much attention to all that ubiquitous and easily-accessible audio-tape. Last time around Republican nominee Mitt Romney made a damning case during a presidential debate that President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had outright lied that the four deaths at an American consulate in Libya were the result of a spontaneous protest against an obscure YouTube video rather than a pre-planned terror attack, and had repeated the lie on numerous news shows and in front of the United Nations, but Obama denied it and the moderator cited a vague allusion to “terrorism” during one speech to back it up, and it wound up working well enough. Trump shouldn’t expect such favors from the moderators of any of his debates, though, and the reality show veteran should keep in mind that videotape is pesky stuff.

— Bud Norman

Your Candidates For Commander-in-Chief, Alas

While President Barack Obama was making another stop on his diplomatic trip to the Far East Wednesday, his would-be successors were appearing on the MSNBC cable network’s “Commander in Chief Forum,” with both spending a half-hour or so answering a series of questions about defense and foreign policy from the National Broadcasting Company’s Matt Lauer and selected members of a an audience comprised mostly of military veterans. None of it, needless to say, was at all reassuring.
A dear friend’s 70th birthday party and a principled lack of cable access kept us from watching the event live, but thanks to the modern miracle of YouTube we were able to watch all the grilling of both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and without commercial interruption at that. We can’t recommend you do, though, as the lack of direct confrontation between the candidates made for rather dreary viewing.
An unfavorable coin toss determined that Clinton would be given the first half-hour, ending that remarkable 6-for-6 coin-flipping streak that helped her win the Iowa caucus, and her bad luck didn’t end there. She had a well-crafted introductory statement about her long experience in foreign affairs as a First Lady and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Secretary of State, and how it has honed her judgment, but that just walked right into Lauer’s first question about that unindexed and yet ongoing e-mail scandal of hers. She had a well-rehearsed answer acknowledging that it had been a mistake to use a private server for many of e-mail communications, insisted she had used only the government server for anything with a “header” indicating it was classified. She clearly hoped that no one would know that much classifiable information was coming to her attention before it could be classified, and that someone with better judgment would have treated it as such, and that there are plenty of other holes in her story. Alas, the next audience member was an Air Force veteran whose work had required security clearances, and who was convinced that he would have been jailed for the actions Clinton has now admitted, so she had to run through yet another variation on the same unconvincing lines.
Lauer then asked about Clinton’s vote as a senator in favor of the Iraq War, which is by now such an unpopular affair that the Republican nominee is bragging that he had always opposed it and that George W. Bush had lied the country into the mess. Clinton once again apologized for the vote, and rightly noted that Trump’s claims to have been opposed all along are completely baseless, then made a plausible argument that her willingness to admit and learn from mistakes has improved her judgment. Although still on the defensive she seemed to be punching back at that point, but the next question was about that awful deal the Obama administration struck with the Iranians on their nuclear weapons programs.
Clinton first noted about how she had worked to impose harsh sanctions on the Iranian government, without acknowledging that the sanctions had begun under the previous administration, then boasted that had succeeded in forcing Iran to the negotiating table. Given the worse-than-Nevill-Chamberlain sort of appeasement that resulted from the negotiations this hardly seems a success, but at least the worst of the deal was finalized by her successor as Secretary of State. She’ll be very tough in enforcing that awful package of appeasement, Clinton assured the audience, and she also talked tough about Iran’s many other outrages, and we had a certain sense that she was trying to put at least some distance between herself and the Obama administration.
There was also talk about the sorry state of the Veterans Administration, which Clinton can’t be readily blamed for and which she seemed plenty outraged about, and when asked to explain her policy toward the Islamic State “as briefly as you can” she sounded very hawkish even as she promised there would be no ground troops in either Iraq or Syria. She also talked about going after Islamic State leader Bagu al-Baghdadi, “just like we did with Osama bin Laden,” reminding the audience of the Obama administration’s biggest hit of the past seven-and-a-half-years, and finished with a vow to be tough on terrorism but making no promises to prevent it altogether.
Even Trump’s most media-averse admirers would be hard pressed to find fault with Lauer’s performance, which kept Clinton on the defensive through most of the interview. A more thorough interrogation about the e-mails would have required the hours that Republican congressional investigations spent on the matter, so we’ll also give Lauer some reluctant credit for compressing it into a few challenges about her most outrageous claims. Even Clinton’s most die-hard detractors would have to admit that she seemed quite feisty in her defense, however, with none of the coughing fits or fatigue or seizures or other afflictions that have lately been talked about all over the internet, and unless you’re already well aware of what she was talking there were no takeaway gaffes. We imagine that her most avid fans were well pleased with the performance, that her most disdainful detractors were not at all swayed, and that anyone in the undecided ranks would be waiting to hear what the Republican might say.
What the Republican had to say was hard to parse, as usual, but so far as we can tell it boiled down to him saying that everything was going to be great with him in charge, believe him. Asked what experiences he had to demonstrate the judgment to run America’s foreign he mentioned his vast business empire, which includes deals in countries overseas, some of which of are really taking advantage of the rest of the United States, believe him, so surely he could tell when it was necessary to put American military lives in harm’s way. He reiterated his lie that he was speaking out against the Iraq War before it was launched, citing an interview in GQ magazine that appeared about a year into the war as proof, and added that the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq was also a “total disaster.” Trump was asked about his well-known propensity to say outrageous things, and his own recent admission that he has occasionally chosen wrong words, and how that might affect his performance as a head of state, and Trump went on about how certain wrong words were needed to defeat all those more qualified Republican candidates that stood in his way to the nomination. He then mentioned his recent trip to Mexico, where he was respectfully greeted with diplomatic protocol and didn’t say anything to get him kicked out, then bragged that the trip had been so successful that some Mexican official who arranged the trip was fired due to the Mexican public’s ensuing outrage over the invitation.
Lauer revived an old Trump quote claiming to know more about the Islamic State than the American military’s generals did, and Trump noted that the generals have no been successful thus far, although he blamed Obama and Secretaries of State Clinton and John Kerry for the failure, and that there might well be an entirely different group of generals he’ll be dealing with that, and that they’ll be the types who won’t have MacArthur and Patton spinning in their graves. He even suggested that his secret plan for defeating the Islamic State will await the 30 days he’s giving the generals to come up with their own plan, and that their might might even be incorporated into his secret plan, but in any case it’s going to be a great plan, believe him.
Whatever that plan might turn out to be, be assured that if it amounts to any military action at all it’s going to include plenty of old-fashioned plunder. Trump has embraced the far-left’s chants about “Bush lied, people died,” but he clearly has no use for that “No blood for oil” slogan, and explained that “I’ve always said we shouldn’t be in there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil.” At this point Lauer made a rare interruption to ask how that might be accomplished, and Trump acknowledged that some people would be “left behind” to get the job done, and Lauer didn’t ask how many of these people there would be, or how many soldiers and airmen would be needed to protect them, much less the many hundreds of miles of pipelines and supply lines need for the project, not to mention the fallout from the inevitable worldwide outrage over the planet’s mightiest military power claiming waging openly proclaimed wars of plunder.
A woman who was introduced as a Democrat and a graduate of the first West Point class to include women got to ask a question about illegal immigrants being allowed in the military, seeming to favor the idea herself, and she got a big hand for that first woman West Pointer distinction, and with his usual keen sense of the crowd Trump said he would work with that. The next questions were about Russia, though, and not so easily handled.
Whatever concerns the people of Mexico or those unfortunate oil-rich lands currently held by the Islamic State might have about a Trump administration, the future of Russo-American relations look rosy indeed, believe him. Trump once again confidently predicted he would have “a good relationship with Putin, and a very good relationship with Russia,” again promised that “as long as he says good things about me, I’ll say good things about him,” protested an interjection by Lauer about the likelihood that Putin’s government hacked the Democratic National Committee by saying “nobody knows that for a fact,” lamented that Obama and Putin were photographed exchanging icy stares during the Group of 20 summit, and seemed sure he’d get a more respectful Air Force One greeting from the Russians than Obama got from the Chinese. Trump suggested a possible alliance with the Russians against the Islamic State, made no mention of Russia’s aggression in Georgia and the Ukraine and threats against much of the rest of the former Soviet empire, and when asked about such issues he said “it’s possible” that Putin will abandon his revanchist ambitions in the event of a Trump administration.
Trump was also asked about the VA, a problem he also cannot be credibly blamed for and is plenty outraged about, and he offered what seemed a sensible idea of providing vouchers for veterans to seek care in the private sector when waiting lines at the government-run doctor’s office became dangerously long. Clinton had scored some points with the veterans by opposing “privatization,” which according to the polls even scares veterans in this day and age, and we note that Trump took pains to insist his plan wasn’t “privatization.” We’d prefer a capitalist-minded Republican who’d embrace the term and make the compelling case for it, and there’s no better case to be made for it than government-run health care, but these days that’s too much to ask for. One of the last questions was about the large number of sexual-harassment charges being alleged in the military, and Trump was reminded of a “tweet” that read “What did these geniuses think when they put men and women together?,” and he defended it by saying “Many people say that.” He added that it was necessary to keep the military court system, and then later that we need to establish a military court system, and he did come out forthrightly in favor of imposing consequences for sexual assaults.
Lauer’s now being pilloried by the left for failing to press Trump on many of these statements, but from our never-Trump perspective on the right we’ll grudgingly concede that it would have been awful hard to compress all the questions into a mere half-hour. With about two-thirds of Clinton’s interview spent on the defensive we’ll have to kick our feet against the sand and lower our heads and say it seemed fair enough, all in all, and that the candidates had only themselves to blame.
Trump probably came out of it slightly better than even, poll-wise. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters got the the “take their oil” rhetoric they’ve come to expect, while Trump’s most die-hard opponents will glumly concede that at least he didn’t repeat his talk about the indiscriminate torture of detainees and the killing of their civilian relatives and the neo-con overreach of the past 16 years of American foreign policy, and the sensitive souls of the Huffington Post were even worried that might have seem slightly presidential to those who can’t spare the time to think through the implications of that “take their oil” policy. Most of Trump’s most disdainful opponents won’t bother with that, either, but in any case they’ll not be swayed.
Clinton and Trump will face each other head-to-head later this month, unless Clinton succumbs to fatal illness or Trump finds some scheduling or moderator issue as an excuse to dodge it, depending on which internet rumors you prefer to believer, and that might be more fun. At this point, though, we don’t expect it will be any more reassuring.

— Bud Norman

A Good Year For Vladimir Putin

The Democrats were loudly cheering some woman’s abortion on Wednesday during their quadrennial party convention, but Donald J. Trump wasn’t about to let them get all the attention. As usual the Republican nominee provided plenty of headline fodder in a Miami press conference, where he addressed the recent hacking and release of Democratic National Party e-mails by telling the Russian government, “Russia — if you’re listening — I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing (from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s accounting during her tenure as Secretary of State). I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

His apologists insist it was just a joke, and we’ll concede that it might well have been, as it’s always hard to tell with Trump, although we notice that he didn’t have to pause for laughs. In any case he gave his critics something to write about than all the embarrassing things that were going on at the Democratic convention, and allowed them tsk and tut and otherwise wax indignant about Trump inviting the interference of a foreign thug in an American election, persuasively argue that if it was a joke it wasn’t a very funny one, and that there’s no assurance the Russians will take it was one, despite that country’s delightfully bleak sense of humor. It also bolstered a recent conspiracy theory that the Russians were behind the hacking and released the e-mails to help Trump, and revived longstanding worry felt on both the left and right about Trump’s apparent chumminess with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, both of which he addressed with his usual un-parseable eloquence.
“Why do I have to get involved with Putin? I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about the man other than that he would respect me. He doesn’t respect our president. And if it is Russia — it’s probably not, nobody knows who it is — but if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason, because it shows how little respect they have for our country, when they would hack into a major party and get everything.”
Which will satisfy his apologists as a perfect reasonable response, but more skeptical sorts are likely to notice that it includes an admission that his past claim before an enrapt Republican audience to have spoken with Putin as “stable mates” on the “60 Minutes” program that broadcast one interview with Putin on the eastern half of the world another with Trump in the western half was of course a ridiculous lie, an even more embarrassing admission that the Republican presidential nominee doesn’t know anything about one of America’s most formidable foreign policy foes except that the fellow will surely respect him, and an absurd insinuation that no country would ever dare think of committing espionage against an America with Trump with in charge. Oh, and that it was all a lead-up to that putative punchline about how very amusing it would be the hackers kept up this disrespectful behavior. All in all, it’s not likely to dispel any conspiracy theories or allay any suspicions about Trump’s Russian policy.
Trump might or might not have anything to do with Putin, although he has long pursued business interests in a country where Putin’s approval is needed to do almost anything, and his campaign manager has long done business with the ex-Ukrainian strong-man who was Putin’s ally and his top foreign policy advisor has long done business with the Kremlin-run natural gas monopoly that Putin wields like a cudgel against the Europeans. Throw in all of Trump’s past praise for Putin’s “strength,” his brushing off of Putin’s assassinations of journalists and political foes by saying “our country does a lot of killing, too,” his short-lived plan to outsource the Syrian problem to Putin, last week’s removal from the Republican platform of a plank to supply weapons to the anti-Russian Ukrainian fighters and Trump’s reiteration that he wouldn’t necessarily fulfill America’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization obligations in case of a Russian attack on a member state and that he’d seriously consider recognizing Russia’s claims to Crimea, and it’s going to take some dispelling and allaying. All in all that conspiracy theory about Putin trying to influence the election in Trump’s favor seems at least as plausible as the one about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy assassination, even if Trump’s good friends at The National Enquirer haven’t yet provided any photographic evidence, and the rest of it suggests to our hardened Cold War sensibilities that Russo-American relations under a Trump administration won’t be at all to our liking.
On the other hand, the presumptive Democratic nominee is the same woman who offered that stupid “reset button” that emboldened Putin’s revanchist ambitions and led directly the the current mess in Ukraine and elsewhere, and the current Democratic president is the one who caught on a “hot” microphone telling a Russian diplomat that he would be even more “flexible” in a second term than he’d been in his feckless first one, and neither that Libertarian guy or that Green Party gal are at all Reagan-esque or even Romney-esque in their anti-Russkie spine, so we figure that no matter the outcome of this election Putin is going to enjoy the next four years more than will we or the rest of the non-Russian world.

— Bud Norman.

The Only One Who Can Solve, God Help Us

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

— Bud Norman

No Refuge in China

President Barack Obama is currently in China, far away from any pesky Republicans, but he doesn’t seem to be enjoying the trip. He’s getting the obligatory red carpet treatment from his hosts and the obligatory softball questions from the press, has been afforded an opportunity to wear exotic clothing, and is getting his picture taken with the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, all of which usually cheers him up, but the photographs all portray a rather glum fellow.
The Asia-Pacific economic summit being hosted in Beijing offers the president a chance to get away from mounting domestic problems and strike a statesmanlike pose, along with the other perquisites of diplomatic travel, but little else. He made a grand announcement of an agreement with China on carbon emissions, but once he gets backs to Washington those pesky Republicans will have something to say about that, the Chinese will continue emitting carbon as they please, and an increasingly skeptical American public will not be impressed by a proposal to restrain the American economy. Little progress is expected on restraining China’s expansionist ambitions or predatory copyright infringements and cyber warfare and currency manipulations or other pressing problems, and no one is expecting any important diplomatic breakthroughs with any of the other assembled leaders. The president managed to dodge a condescending pat on the back from Russian President Vladimir Putin, but their brief exchanges apparently have not resulted in a Russian retreat from Ukraine.
Still, the president’s dour expression in all those photographs, looking self-conscious even in that rather dapper Fu Manchu outfit, is curious. Previous diplomatic journeys proved just as pointless but still put a smile on his face, and the lack of any news from the trip can only improve his standing with the public. We can only speculate that he’s feeling insufficiently appreciated. Despite the diplomatic niceties the Chinese government broadcast its sneering contempt for Obama’s leadership through the state media in the days before his arrival, Putin’s ostentatiously chummy behavior seemed calculated to express a similarly superior attitude, and no one among the friendlier leaders was looking to him for all the answers. We suspect that this is not what Obama had anticipated for the sixth year of his presidency, which was supposed to be when the world joined hands and started singing “Give Peace a Chance” in tune with his pitch pipe, and that he is disappointed with the world.
Obama is always more energetic and ruthless in his dealings with America’s real enemy, those pesky Republicans, so perhaps he’ll perk up when he returns to Washington. He’ll have to dodge a condescending pat on the back from presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, though, and we don’t expect that in the resultant photographs his facial expression will be any sunnier. America is proving disappointing to the president, as well, and it’s going to take a heck of a pep talk from Valerie Jarrett to keep his chin up to its usual heights.

— Bud Norman

Nagging Doubts

The president’s efforts to whip up some enthusiasm for war in Syria are not going well. Members of Congress from both parties are reluctant to authorize military action, international opinion is almost entirely against it, and the latest revelations in the news aren’t likely to bolster the president’s case.
A story appeared Thursday in The New York Times, formerly a reliable friend of the president, which portrayed the Syrian rebels who are likely to benefit from American intervention as a bloodthirsty bunch of Islamist fanatics who have summarily executed prisoners of war and committed various other atrocities. The unsavoriness of our Syrian allies is also being widely reported in the European press, and Britain’s The Telegraph tells of the rebel’s brutal treatment of Christians in a captured town. Even the State Department is citing the rebels’ suicide bombings and frequent attacks on civilians in its warning against travel in Syria, despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s assurances to Congress that only 15 to 20 percent of the rebels are “bad guys.”
Such unfavorable coverage of our potential allies makes it hard to win support for their cause, and it also adds to the nagging doubts about who was responsible for the chemical weapons attack that is the president’s sole justification for taking action against the Syrian government. The administration is adamant that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad ordered the attack, and has lately elevated its language from “a high level of confidence” to “beyond the shadow of a doubt,” but the few pages of evidence it has offered for the claim are being widely disputed. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has provided the United Nations with 100 pages of argument that the rebels launched the attack to lure America into the country’s civil war, Florida’s ultra-Democratic Rep. Al Grayson is telling anyone who will listen that evidence of Assad’s guilt has been “manipulated,” and after the failure to find stockpiles of chemical weapons in Iraq after they were offered as one reason for a war there many people in between are bound to be suspicious.
We have no fondness for Putin or Grayson, or those who insist that the intelligence reports preceding the Iraq war were deliberately deceptive, but there is a troubling plausibility to their suspicions. The Syrian rebels seem quite capable of murdering a thousand of their countrymen in a false flag operation designed to dupe an American president, the president does seem quite capable of falling for it, and it is hard to explain why Assad would cross a presidentially-declared “red line” and possibly provoke American intervention and international scorn by using chemical weapons at a time when he seemed to be winning without them. The evidence against Assad might justify a high level of confidence, but at this point it does not seem beyond the shadow of a doubt, and it would be highly embarrassing to America if proof emerges that it has punished an innocent party and brought about the victory of the guilty.
Making a case that will overcome these doubts would be hard for any president, but this one is especially ill-positioned to make it. As a candidate he had happily exploited the public’s doubt about the intelligence that led to Iraq war, insisted that presidents don’t have the constitutional authority to order military action without congressional approval, argued that favorable international opinion was also required to fight and promised that he would be the one who would win it, and has president he now has to repudiate all of it. We’re told that some sort of action is needed to restore the president’s credibility, but his credibility is already a casualty of a war that hasn’t yet begun.

— Bud Norman