Category Archives: The World

Nikki Haley is now the grownup in the room

An image from Nikki Haley's Twitter feed...

An image from Nikki Haley’s Twitter feed…

I got a call this morning from E.J. Dionne in Washington, wanting to talk about Nikki Haley. I don’t know whether I said anything intelligible or not. I remember rambling about how she has held a series of jobs (including the current one) for which she was woefully unqualified, but has grown in office.

Which of course is nothing new, and I’m far from the only person to have said it. Once, late in her first term as governor, a senior member of her administration said, “She’s really grown in office.” Then he said, “And if you tell anybody I said that, I’ll f___ing come to your house and kill you.” So, you know, I’m not using his name.

But back to the present day… Nikki still has a tendency to get a tad defensive, as with her comment yesterday that “I don’t get confused.”

But that’s a defensiveness I can endorse. She fights her corner, stating her case in matter-of-fact terms. Also, she’s increasingly likely to be the one who’s right on the policy. Which is why her side of this is playing well.

It’s certainly far more mature than some of her petulant Facebook posts in her first term as governor.

So yeah, she’s grown.

And I don’t think I’m saying that just because the White House tends to look so childish by comparison…

Nikki Haley needs to remember that she works for Donald Trump, who won’t back her up — especially on Russia

nikki talk

This is just classic. From The Washington Post:

Nikki Haley finds herself under the bus as Trump shifts course on Russia

The Washington Post reported late Sunday that President Trump “has battled his top aides on Russia and lost.”

Less than 20 hours later, Trump has now reversed U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement that the United States would be ramping up sanctions on Russia.

Hmm.

The sudden reversal of Haley’s Sunday-morning announcement is hardly the only example of the right hand in the White House not always knowing what the left hand is up to. Trump often seems to be negotiating not just those around him but also with himself and has been unafraid of contradicting top aides and even Cabinet-level officials like Haley.

But on Russia and on an issue of such import, the quick reversal is stunning — and relatively rare. There is no clear indication whether Haley or someone else is at fault, but as The Post’s team notes, she has a tendency to clear her remarks with Trump personally before she makes them. It seems entirely possible that she got Trump to sign off on saying more Russia sanctions were coming on Sunday morning, and then the White House got cold feet (possibly because Trump suddenly felt the need to exert himself over the process)….

Remember, Nikki, you’re working for a 2-year-old — and one who thinks Vladimir Putin is one of the cool kids…

U.S., Britain and France strike targets in Syria

trump announce

Trump just did his announcement, so I thought I’d put this up so you can have a place to discuss it.

Here’s the news:

President Trump ordered a military attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, joining allies Britain and France in launching missile strikes in retaliation for what Western nations said was the deliberate gassing of Syrian civilians.

The coordinated strike marked the second time in a year that Trump has used force against Assad, who U.S. officials believe has continued to test the West’s willingness to accept gruesome chemical attacks.

Trump announced the strikes in an address to the nation Friday evening. He said, “The purpose of our action tonight is to establish a strong deterrent” against the production and use of chemical weapons, describing the issue as vital to national security. Trump added that the U.S. is prepared “to sustain this response” until its aims are met.

Trump asked both Russia and Iran, both Assad backers, “what kind of nation wants to be associated” with mass murder and suggested that some day the U.S. might be able to g”et along” with both if they change their policies….

I was curious to see what the leaders of Britain and France had to say about this. But when I go to British and French newspaper sites, it’s all about what Trump said (“Donald Trump annonce des frappes contre la Syrie, en coordination avec Paris et Londres“), not Theresa May or Emmanuel Macron. It’s like their involvement doesn’t matter, and they don’t feel obliged to explain it to their people — leave it to Trump. Is that the normal pattern?

Senator, how about giving the #FakeNews thing a rest?

Certainly Lindsey Graham didn’t start this, but this Tweet of his was a sort of straw, with my patience being the camel:

I had to respond to him thusly:

Senator, it would be great if you wouldn’t add to overuse of that term, which seems to mean whatever Trumpistas want it to mean. It is not “fake news” that the Russian military made that absurd claim. They did. And the AP is truthfully and accurately reporting that they did….

Yeah, I know what he meant: That the Russians were saying something untrue. Which of course should be obvious even to a child.

A responsible news source...

A responsible news source…

But things that should be obvious to children are not always obvious to Trump supporters, and when you attach that #FakeNews label to a link to an actual story from a responsible news outlet, you are adding to their delusion that actual news, from trustworthy sources, is what is “fake.”

And I think the senator was willing for them to take it that way, because he was in his “try to look like a friend of Trump” mode when he sent that out.

And that is unhelpful.

More than ever, responsible people should be helping their neighbors, and themselves, distinguish fact from fiction. And Lindsey Graham knows better…

Help the children of Dominica learn to dance again

dancers

Still from a video of one of Becca’s classes.

Y’all know that my youngest daughter did a two-year Peace Corps tour of duty in Thailand awhile back, because we went to visit her and I posted about it. There, she did the usual kind of Peace Corps work, like something out of the movie “Volunteers,” only Tom Hanks and John Candy weren’t there to help her. She was way out in the countryside on her own, teaching such things as English and basic life skills in the local schools. She was the only farang for many miles around. When someone had an event and wanted to draw a crowd, they invited her to present the award or cut the ribbon or lead the parade, and people were sure to turn out, just to see the blonde foreign girl.

You may not know that before she was in the Peace Corps, she was a classical ballet dancer. She had spent her last year of high school in Pennsylvania training intensely at a respected school there, stayed another year after graduation, then came down to USC to study in its dance program. But some of her teachers persuaded her to leave school and turn pro. So she did, dancing with companies in both North Carolina and Columbia before having to “retire” because of injuries. She went back to school, to get her degree from College of Charleston, then joined the Peace Corps.

She had no way of knowing those two paths would combine in a unique opportunity.

After she had been back from Thailand a short while — she worked for a dance company in New York during the interval — she saw an ad for a position in the Peace Corps Response program. The island nation of Dominica in the Caribbean, a place with few economic advantages, wanted someone to teach its children to dance. With Peace Corps and professional dance experience, Becca — being uniquely qualified — got the job, and started in January 2017.

The wrecked arts center.

The wrecked arts center.

Everything went fine (here’s a piece Becca wrote about her work a year ago) until Dominica was hit by Hurricane Maria in September. There was no chance to evacuate ahead of time. As it bore down on the island, the storm started the day as a Category 1, and by landfall was a Category 5. Everyone knows what Maria did to Puerto Rico. But Dominica, a former French and then British colony before gaining independence in 1978, doesn’t get as much press. And Dominica was hit first — and harder.

Dominica was devastated. The island, which is rocky and mountainous and lacks the attractive beaches of some of its neighbors, had been building a bit of an ecotourism industry, but its forests were torn up by the roots, the trees littering the island. Agriculture was completely destroyed, plantations losing 100 percent of their crops. And practically no one had a roof that hadn’t been ripped open to the sky.

The almost 20 Peace Corps volunteers on the island had been summoned together to ride out the storm in a hotel in the city of Roseau. It was a harrowing experience. For days after, their only water was what had collected on the roof. Eventually, the Peace Corps hired some fishing boats to take them off and transport them to St. Lucia, from whence my daughter came home to stay with us a few weeks.

And then she went back. She was one of only five Peace Corps folks to return, and she did so at the particular request of local officials, who still wanted their children to have a chance at cultural enrichment.

Becca’s efforts have drawn some attention recently. Buzzfeed did a feature on her and seven other Peace Corps volunteers who were “Using Sports To Strengthen Communities Abroad.” Never mind that ballet isn’t exactly a sport, they had nice things to say anyway (mainly derived from the piece she wrote last year):

For Rebecca Warthen, ballet is everything that makes life worth living: beauty, romance, music, joy, passion, and physicality. So when she saw a Peace Corps Response opening for a ballet instructor and teacher trainer on the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, she applied immediately, hoping to change lives with the art form that changed her own.

Warthen said one of the best things about dance is that you don’t need expensive equipment. “All you really need is your body, space, and the desire to learn, and your future is yours to determine… More importantly, they’re learning something new from a culture different than theirs, from a person with a different skin tone and different background, and through that they will become more accepting, open-minded people, which is what this is all about, isn’t it?”

No, you don’t need much special equipment to dance, but you do need a place to do it. And the one dance studio in the country — the Dominica Institute for the Arts — had been destroyed in the storm.

Since her return, Becca has been teaching in the schools — those that remain — and other spaces as available. But she’s determined to restore the island’s one studio, a beautiful facility that had been donated by a Dominican who had had success in the wider world and wanted to give back.

Here’s a story on the Peace Corps website about her effort. It will cost a little more than $28,000. The people of Dominica, who don’t have much to give, have come up with $20,000 of it themselves. Becca is trying to raise the rest.

If you can, please help. You can give at the Peace Corps site. The people of Dominica, who want broader horizons for their children, will appreciate it. So will I.

Becca and some of her students.

Becca and some of her students.

The one moderating force left on the Trump national security team is a guy nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’

Call him 'Mad Dog,' as often as possible....

Call him ‘Mad Dog,’ as often as possible….

I say that not to disparage Gen. Mattis. I think very highly of him. And we’re all dependent now on him, and him alone, to use his considerable skills to help our nation navigate a sane course.

I just thought the irony was worth noting. Of course, it’s not just an ironic coincidence. I’ve suspected from the start that the nickname “Mad Dog” is the main thing Trump likes about the general, so we should all use it a lot, so that they use it on Fox News, and Trump keeps him on.

In fact, maybe we should all prevail upon the SecDef to change his name to “Mad Dog” legally, because there’s little doubt that crazy is what this president likes.

Bolton mugWhen I heard John Bolton would replace H.R. McMaster, I cringed a bit. Then I tried to look on the bright side: I thought, people have always said bad things about Bolton, but the people who said those things were mostly the people who always said bad things about us neocons, so maybe he’s not really that bad.

So I did a little reading, refreshing my memory regarding Mr. Bolton, and… yeah, he’s really that bad. Ask Jennifer Rubin. Ask Max Boot. Oh, and as Ms. Rubin points out, Bolton is not a neocon: “Bolton is not strictly speaking a ‘neo-conservative,’ as his concern for human rights is muted.” She’s using “muted” liberally in this case.

Of course, those of you who watch cable TV news probably didn’t have to reach as far back in your memory as I did to remind yourselves how terrible he is at playing well with others. But I did.

So now, I’m back to where I started: suitably alarmed. And hoping Jim Mattis stays healthy and in you-know-who’s good graces…

The ‘Jihadist Beatles?’

jihadi beatles

 

Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC
Didn’t get to bed last night
Stayed up putting Semtex in my BVDs
Man I had a dreadful flight!

I’m back in the I.S.I.L.
You prob’ly won’t live to tell, boy
Back in the I.S.I.L.!

Sorry. I suppose that’s in poor taste. But I didn’t start it. It’s the British press that’s calling these four terrorists “the Beatles:”

Exhausted and strikingly different in appearance from the other captives, the two new prisoners were believed by Kurdish militia leaders to be among Islamic State’s cadre of foreign fighters.

But it was not until mid-January, around one week after their capture in eastern Syria, that the Kurds – and their CIA colleagues at the interrogation centre where they were holding the prisoners – knew exactly who they had: Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, Britain’s two most wanted terror suspects. They had finally been caught – and they were ready to talk.

Kotey and Elsheikh are the final two of an infamous quartet of Britons who acted as jailers, torturers and executioners of foreign aid workers and journalists for more than two years from mid-2013. They were dubbed “the Beatles” by their victims, in reference to their British accents – though they were from London, rather than Merseyside…

I used to have pleasant, light-hearted associations with the Fab Four. Now this…

Graham should be more specific about what he heard

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

Since some Republicans, after a day or two of thinking about it, started claiming Trump didn’t really say “s___hole” (hilariously, one of the lines of defense has been to claim he really said “s___house“) it’s refreshing that Lindsey Graham has stuck to his original version of the story, as Andy Shain reports:

Trouble is, his original story remains vague and indirect. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too — to call the president out for his racist assertions without quite, you know, calling him out.

We know from colleague Tim Scott that Graham told him the media reports of what Trump said were “basically correct.”

And Graham has made sure that we know that he gave Trump a piece of his mind in response to, you know, whatever he said:

When Trump made the incendiary remark, Graham spoke up, telling the president that “America is an idea, not a race.”

“I tried to make it very clear to the president that when you say ‘I’m an American,’ what does that mean?” Graham said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re black or white, rich or poor. It means that you buy into an ideal of self-representation, compassion, tolerance, the ability to practice one’s religion without interference and the acceptance of those who are different.

“So at the end of the day, an American is a person who believes in ideals that have stood the test of time,” Graham added. “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s what you’re willing to do once you get here.”…

Agreed, senator. But since people are standing up and saying Trump didn’t say what he said, it would be helpful if you’d be the truthteller and give us a precise account of what you heard.

As the late Howard Baker might have said, What did the president say, and how did he say it?

Burl’s 1st-hand account of the Great Missile Alert of 2018

Your truly with our correspondent Burl in Hawaii on a less-panicky Saturday in 2015. Note the rainbow.

Your truly with our correspondent Burl in Hawaii on a less-panicky Saturday in 2015. Note the rainbow.

You’ve no doubt heard about the false alarm in Hawaii today:

For 38 harrowing minutes, residents and tourists in Hawaii were left to believe that missiles were streaming across the sky toward the Pacific island chain after an erroneous alert Saturday morning by the state’s emergency management agency.

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii,” warned an 8:07 a.m. message transmitted across the state’s cellphone networks. “Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

Only after an inexplicable delay by the state agency — during which residents scrambled to seek shelter and contact relatives — was a subsequent message sent describing the missile warning as a “false alarm.”

Not satisfied with mainland newspaper accounts, I turned to our intrepid correspondent on the scene, veteran newspaperman-turned-historian Burl Burlingame, to tell us what it was like.

Initially he responded with a text that said:

We’re OK but the neighbors have resorted to cannibalism.

Journalists are conditioned to react to incipient annihilation with gallows humor, and protocol required that I respond in kind, so I said, “Perfectly understandable, under the circumstances.” Then, with patience born of decades as an editor waiting for reporters to get off their a__es and file the actual story, I waited.

Eventually, he filed his report via Facebook Messenger. It follows:

In Hawaii, at 11:45 a.m. on the first working day of every month, sirens go off all over the state. You can hear them almost everywhere. Civil defense has them to warn of incoming missiles, but mainly because we’re a seacoast state with a low land mass that can easily be hit with a tidal wave or earthquake from almost any direction. Such natural disasters aren’t iffy; it’s just a matter of when …

So we take such alerts seriously.

The alarm clock on my phone was set for 8:10 a.m. this morning, so when it made noise I dimly perceived it as my wake-up call. Was it ever! It took a few moments to focus on incoming alerts and the top one said that missiles were incoming and it was not a drill.

Huh?

For a while, we’ve been getting practice alerts that are worded similarly — thanks, Trump! — although this one was most clear. But there were no sirens, no ancillary information being broadcast. Being an ex-journalist, I was pretty suspicious of a single phone alert with no backup.

I woke up the wife and told her to prepare to fight in Thunderdome after the imminent nuclear annihilation. She said OK and went back to sleep. Since she’s the night editor at the paper, I suspect she’s pretty busy this evening dealing with “I was there” stories.

There was some commotion in my neighborhood as folks were packing their cars. To go where?

I had an appointment at 10 a.m. to deliver a lecture and people were expecting me there, so I went. The electronic highway signs were already flashing MISSILE ATTACK WARNING IS AN ERROR / THERE IS NO THREAT and I mentally filed away the revelation that they are tied in with Civil Defense.

Many people were caught away from home and family. People dashed home or to churches. Tourists were rounded up off the beaches and sequestered in hotel lobbies. I expect there might be casualties from the panic.

No info yet on how this happened. It’s possible it was an online troll attack. People here are blaming Trump, but we’re expecting him to blame Hillary.

Good report. Short and to the point. And he didn’t speculate about anything he wasn’t sure about.

Gov. David Ige has now attributed the mess to a state employee’s errant push of a button. Yeah… I think the good folk of Hawaii are going to want a more complete answer than that…

The USS Arizona memorial stands as grim reminder that attacks from the air DO happen, even in paradise.

The USS Arizona memorial stands as grim reminder that sudden attacks from the air DO happen, even in paradise.

How ‘America First’ helps bring about the Chinese Century

China's Rambo: The piece in The New Yorker leads with the wild success of a new film in which the Chinese hero flexes muscle abroad...

China’s Rambo: The piece in The New Yorker leads with the wild success of a new film, “Wolf Warrior II,” in which the Chinese hero flexes muscle abroad…

Last night, New Yorker journalist Evan Osnos was on Fresh Air, talking about his new piece in the magazine headlined “Making China Great Again.” The subhed of the piece is “As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.”

No kidding. All the way home as I listened, my reaction was essentially “Duh!” I mean, everything he was saying about the way Trump has damaged U.S. standing in the world — and elevated that of China and others who can’t wait to fill the vacuum — was obvious. Anyone would know that this would be what would happen as a result of his “America First” idiocy.

Except, abundant evidence exists that this is not obvious to everyone. So I thought I’d share. And I learned a lot of details about how the predictable has actually played out. It’s particularly interesting to hear him talking about how Chinese leadership has figured out where all Trump’s buttons are, and manipulated him to their advantage at every turn.

Here’s the basic thrust of the New Yorker piece:

China has never seen such a moment, when its pursuit of a larger role in the world coincides with America’s pursuit of a smaller one. Ever since the Second World War, the United States has advocated an international order based on a free press and judiciary, human rights, free trade, and protection of the environment. It planted those ideas in the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, and spread them with alliances around the world. In March, 1959, President Eisenhower argued that America’s authority could not rest on military power alone. “We could be the wealthiest and the most mighty nation and still lose the battle of the world if we do not help our world neighbors protect their freedom and advance their social and economic progress,” he said. “It is not the goal of the American people that the United States should be the richest nation in the graveyard of history.”

Under the banner of “America First,” President Trump is reducing U.S. commitments abroad. On his third day in office, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation trade deal designed by the United States as a counterweight to a rising China. To allies in Asia, the withdrawal damaged America’s credibility. “You won’t be able to see that overnight,” Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, told me, at an event in Washington. “It’s like when you draw a red line and then you don’t take it seriously. Was there pain? You didn’t see it, but I’m quite sure there’s an impact.”

In a speech to Communist Party officials last January 20th, Major General Jin Yinan, a strategist at China’s National Defense University, celebrated America’s pullout from the trade deal. “We are quiet about it,” he said. “We repeatedly state that Trump ‘harms China.’ We want to keep it that way. In fact, he has given China a huge gift. That is the American withdrawal from T.P.P.” Jin, whose remarks later circulated, told his audience, “As the U.S. retreats globally, China shows up.”

For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected….

This is something I’ve worried about for a long time. One of the first editorials I ever wrote for The State, probably in January 1994, was about the way China was quietly insinuating its way into positions of influence around the globe, including in our own Monroe Doctrine backyard — Latin America. But at least for the next 23 years, we had leaders who understood why this was a problem (as we had my whole life), and were taking steps to counter it — such as with the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, of which TPP was a critical part.

I never dreamed that we’d have a president who on Day One (OK, Day Three) would just trash it all, and invite China to jump in with both feet. Trump was so eager to do this that he even took a moment out of his busy first-week schedule of loudly proclaiming that his inauguration crowd had been the biggest ever.

And why does it worry me (one or more of my relativist friends will ask)? I always feel a little absurd having to explain it, but I feel a lot better living in a world in which the global hegemon is the planet’s greatest liberal democracy than in one dominated by the oppressors in Beijing. So should all of you who like to exercise your freedom of expression here on this blog. It’s that simple. Or rather, it’s that, and my belief that the rest of the world is better off with the U.S. playing the role China wants to play.

I recommend you listen to the radio interview and read the piece in The New Yorker. Then let’s discuss…

And Nikki had been doing so WELL lately…

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First, Nikki Haley was doing pretty well as a backbench S.C. House member, to the extent that we endorsed her twice. She had a lot to learn, but she seemed fairly bright and we felt her intentions were good.

Then, she ran for governor, for which she was shockingly unprepared. All I could say at the time was, “Don’t do it, Nikki!” But she did it. And for much of the past four years, she demonstrated how unprepared she was.

But toward the end, she showed some signs of growing in office. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. One of her own political appointees put it to me in just those words. I didn’t report that at the time because the next thing he said was, “And if you write that I’ll come to your house and kill you.” It didn’t seem worth it.

Then she got re-elected, and then in 2015 she did probably the finest thing she will do in her life, and I praised her to the skies and urged others to do so. Finally, I thought, she is a governor.

And then, owing Henry McMaster a major favor, you-know-who named her U.S. ambassador to the U.N. This was shocking, of course, because she had no known experience or understanding of geopolitics, either in a real-world or academic sense. So I braced myself.

But she has done surprisingly well. Not perfectly well, but amazingly so for someone entirely lacking in credentials.

I attribute this to one of her most remarkable innate attributes: She makes a good impression. Not just a good first impression, or a good second one — the effect continues through the 10th, the 20th and so on. Sometime after that, you might have creeping doubts, if you’re inclined that way. But it takes awhile.

And a talent like that can go a long, long way in diplomatic circles. Consequently, people started talking of her as a replacement for Rex Tillerson, who has no discernible diplomatic talents, and has been dismantling the State Department. She even gets mentioned as a possible future successor to you-know-who, but let’s not get into that.

The point is, she’s been doing well.

But sometimes old habits rise up, as in this Tweet:

Hey, at least she didn’t say that other thing people say they’re going to do in tandem with taking names.

You know what that reminds me of? When she presumed to “grade” legislators according to whether they had done her bidding. This was in 2011, long before she started showing signs of growing into the office of governor.

And this is disappointing. Here’s hoping Diplomatic Nikki makes a return, and soon…

Meanwhile, the bluster didn’t work:

United Nations Rebukes U.S. Over Jerusalem in 128-to-9 Vote

How fast can she write? That’s a lot of names to take in a short period of time…

‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode Eight: ‘The History of the World’

Now that I’ve watched all the episodes, it’s getting a little difficult to remember details from one a couple back. But here are some points, just as conversation starters:

  • There’s a lot about our experience in Vietnam that appalls me — and of course, many of them are not the same things that appall Doug or Bud. But My Lai is one where I think our disgust is in synch — even though I’m sure we extrapolate different lessons from it. That Calley served so little time — and in house arrest, the gentleman’s form of punishment administered to a monster — makes a mockery of all that’s holy. I don’t believe in capital punishment, but someone should have shot him in the act, and saved some of those people (and I deeply honor helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., who intervened to stop it, threatening to open fire on his fellow Americans if they did not cease the killing). Worse than Calley’s case is that no one else even served time — not Medina, not his NCOs, not anybody. Of course, neither of those things is the worst thing. The worst thing is the killing itself, all those innocents…
  • This episode also includes one of Nixon’s worst lies: When he said Thieu had told him the ARVN were doing such a great job that Vietnamization could proceed apace so we could start pulling out American combat troops — and Thieu had said no such thing. It’s one thing to start pulling Americans out — that, at least, was something Nixon had promised to do and we knew he was going to do, and by and large the country (this country that is) was behind him on that. But to claim that the ally you’re deserting had told you that was fine by him when he hadn’t is slimy.
  • The contrast between horrors of war and what was going on back stateside is often disturbing to me. A segment in which Marine Tom Vallely was engaged in particularly intense combat — an action for which his was awarded the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry — after which he is talking about the things one’s grandchildren will never understand about what you did in the war… shifts jarringly to Country Joe and the Fish performing “Fixin’ to Die Rag” at Woodstock. It was two days after the battle we’d just been told about. The camera stops on the face of one long-haired kid after another in the audience grinning and smirking at the mocking lyrics, singing along to this hilarious song about dying in Vietnam. I’d never minded that song very much before, but seeing people so tickled by it just after looking at dead and dying men on a battlefield sickened me. And it should do the same to my antiwar friends. People think they’re so damned cute, don’t they? Give me cursing, angry, rock-throwing protesters in the street rather than this.
  • Kent State. I’ve always felt the loss of those kids keenly. I read Michener’s book about the shootings not long after it happened and learned a lot about each of them, felt that I got to know and care about them. What happened there was inexcusable, indefensible. To start with, why were those kids in the Guard uniforms issued live ammunition? Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s song about the tragedy gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. All of that said… I don’t feel exactly about the incident the way my antiwar friends do. As horrific as the shooting of those protesters was, I wish I could be like antiwar folk and applaud their protest with uncomplicated approval. But I’m not able to do that. To me, the tragedy of their deaths is compounded by the fact that their cause made no sense to me. Of course you go into Cambodia if that’s where the enemy is — especially when there’s a new government in that country that approves of your doing so. Anything that could be done to strengthen the position of the South Vietnamese when we’re preparing to pull out should quite naturally be done. That’s what I thought at the time, and I see no reason to think differently now. I wish I could. It would be nice to have the blessing of uncomplicated feelings.
  • There was one thing I can feel pretty good about, in an uncomplicated way, and that was the practice back here of five million Americans wearing bracelets to remember the POWs in Hanoi. As the narrator says, “Despite what their jailers had told them, the prisoners had not been forgotten by their country.” There’s nothing political about it. It’s neither approving nor protesting. It’s just remembering, caring. It’s good to be reminded of that.

Just two more episodes to discuss. Then we can go back to arguing about things happening in this century…

marching

‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode Seven: ‘The Veneer of Civilization’

That clip above follows an extraordinary story of heroism in battle.

In a night battle against overwhelming odds — his company was badly outnumbered by the attacking NVA — Vincent Okamoto, a Japanese-American who had been born in an internment camp during the Second World War, did an Audie Murphy: He left cover to jump atop an armored personnel carrier, pulled aside the dead body of the machine-gunner, and fired the gun at the enemy until it stopped working.

Then he went to another APC, and fired its gun until it was out of ammunition. Then he did it again from a third APC. When all that ammo was gone, the was still coming, so he started throwing grenades at them. Twice, he threw back enemy grenades thrown at him. A third landed out of his reach, and peppered his back and legs with shrapnel.

Convinced he was going to die (“Mom’s gonna take it hard,” he thought), Okamoto lost all fear, and kept fighting. Eventually, the enemy slipped away into Cambodia, leaving a third of the American company as casualties.

Vincent Okamoto

Vincent Okamoto

“I killed a lot of brave men that night,” he says. And he tells himself that by doing so, maybe, just maybe, he saved the lives of a couple of his own guys. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for that night of fighting. By the time he went home, he would become the most highly decorated Japanese-American to survive the Vietnam War.

But as is the case with so many decorated heroes, he shoves that aside rather impatiently, speaking of the “real heroes” with whom he served. That’s the clip above. I thought I should share what went before to enhance your experience of the clip.

It’s a pretty powerful evocation of the thing that those of us who’ve never been to war often misunderstand about those who have. We can talk about courage and sacrifice and heroism, and patriotism and causes and waving flags. But to those who have been there, that stuff is so often (if not always) beside the point. It’s about the guys next to you. Whatever you do, you do for them, in the context of the moment, and not for the stuff of Fourth of July speeches.

And I can say all that stuff in words, because I’ve read it so many times in words, and I think I understand it well enough to do that. But I don’t really know. How can I?

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about that “veneer of civilization” that turned thin and frayed and was ripped aside at about this time.

At this point, Martin and Bobby have already fallen, and once again we’re reminded of how much was lost in those two men. (By the way, if you’ve never listened to the recording of RFK announcing MLK’s death at a campaign rally, and then going on to speak with an eloquence that puts everyone since him in the shade, listen now. It always gives me goosebumps.)

RFK, I believe, could have been the guy to pull his party together and not only win the election, but help heal the country. It had seemed that way since he had made his late entry into the race. He, perhaps, could have done what neither Humphrey nor McCarthy could do. Without him, and MLK, there wasn’t much of a chance for that.

The Democratic Convention in Chicago was one of the low points of American civilization — all those multifaceted freaks acting out in the streets, and all those Chicago cops brutalizing them. And what did they accomplish? Why, the election — just barely — of Richard Nixon. In the same sense that the Bernie Bros helped elect Trump, only more so. The Democratic brand was so damaged that HHH couldn’t overcome it, despite the prevalence of his party all through the decade up to that point.

I’ve heard a lot from Doug and others during this series about how awful JFK and LBJ supposedly were. It just makes me sad, because I know I can’t explain to folks with that attitude why they’re wrong to engage in such blanket condemnation.

It’s foolish for people with that attitude of monolithic negativity to think a series such as this would “open my eyes” and cause me to see things as they do. And it’s equally foolish for me to think the same experience would temper the views of those who are deeply cynical as a result of the way that war tore the country apart. (I didn’t have much hope of that, but I’ll confess to thinking “maybe…”)

But there is one point on which this series has affected my thinking, leaving me with a darker view of someone or something: I am repeatedly appalled by hearing those conversations that Nixon had with Kissinger and others.

Over the decades, my view of Nixon has softened somewhat. After all, his mastery of policy seems particularly worthy of respect in a time when we have a complete idiot in the White House.

But his cold cynicism and clamoring for personal political advantage is nauseating. How can a person, even speaking privately with his confidantes, say such nakedly Machiavellian things?

And remember, folks, this is the guy who kept his promise to get us out of Vietnam.

I’d still take him over Trump, for many reasons. But he was pretty awful. I’m reminded by this series that he was the worst president in my lifetime, until now. Worse than I had remembered…

Chicago

‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode Six: ‘Things Fall Apart’

American Ms fighting off the VC who had entered the American embassy compound.

American Ms fighting the VC who had entered the American embassy compound.

I’m still a day behind — I watched Episode Seven last night — but I’ll get there eventually.

To me, this episode — which dealt with the period of the Tet Offensive — was all about the power of expectations and perception.

The offensive was, of course, a tremendous failure for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong — tactically and strategically, in terms of what they hoped to achieve.

The communists attacked everywhere, and were defeated everywhere — badly defeated. Their losses were horrific. And their strategic goal — of inspiring the people of the South to rise up and support the North’s cause — was a complete failure. None of the Southern provinces rose up. The people of the South, along with the Americans, fought back fiercely and with devastating effectiveness. The NVA and Viet Cong were crushed.

It was the sort of thing that, were you an American or South Vietnamese military commander, you might wish the North would do once a month, the result was so damaging to the North’s ability to wage war.

But that’s not how it played in America. In America, it played as “They can rise up everywhere at once? Some of them got inside the U.S. embassy compound?” The enemy wasn’t supposed to be able to do that. (And yes, American commanders’ overly rosy assessments of how the war going had something to do with that.)

That’s when, as the title of the episode suggests, things began to fall apart. The enemy launched the offensive on January 30, 1968. On March 12, LBJ suffered a terrible setback in the New Hampshire primary.

Mind you, he didn’t lose. Again, we’re talking expectations and perception. He won, but with only 49.6 percent of the vote — and that’s not supposed to happen to a sitting president in his own party’s primary.

An interesting side note here: Eugene McCarthy didn’t get 41.9 percent because that many people were antiwar. As the episode points out, he did that well “even though most of those who voted against the president actually wanted him to prosecute the war more vigorously.” Stuff is often more complicated than we remember.

But the president was expected to win 2-to-1, so that means he lost. Expectations and perception.

Four days later, Bobby Kennedy announced he would run. On March 31, Johnson announced that he was bowing out: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.” (Wouldn’t it be nice if it were so easy to get Trump to quit?)

Tet, and that political defeat of the once all-powerful Johnson, made it respectable for serious Democratic politicians to be against the war. We’d fight on for five more years, but this is where the conversation that led to withdrawal started to get serious.

In a way, despite getting creamed on the battlefield, the North had achieved what Hitler failed to do at the Battle of the Bulge. He had hoped to shock the overconfident Western Allies — who had been talking about the war ending by Christmas 1944 — into losing heart, perhaps even seeking a negotiated peace so he could turn and use all his forces against the Russians.

So, defeat eventually translated to victory for the North….

‘Eden is broken:’ Help Dominica!

To update you:

A couple of days ago, the Peace Corps evacuated all personnel from Dominica, including my youngest daughter. She rode on a fishing boat, boarded at the only functioning wharf, to St. Lucia, four hours away. We were finally able to speak to her — via Facetime — late Thursday night. Right after we spoke, she posted this on Facebook:

Just got to St. Lucia. I’m fine. Please keep Dominica in your thoughts. The country is completely devastated. I don’t even want to explain the apocalyptic catastrophe we witnessed today on the way out. It is utterly heartbreaking. I can only rest knowing that the strength of the Dominican people will prevail.

The Peace Corps will spend the next 45 days assessing whether to send personnel back in.

That’s great for us, because it means my daughter will be coming home this week. But she and others are terribly worried about their friends left behind — whom they can’t contact. As I understand it, they were evacuated in large part because the places where they stayed were destroyed, as well as the places where they worked, such as schools and other public facilities. My daughter didn’t get the chance even to see the village where she lives — she was evacuated straight from the hotel in Roseau where the PC folks had sheltered during the storm. But she’s heard that 95 percent of roofs in her community were destroyed.

In other words, Dominica is for the moment in dire need of different kinds of help than what the Peace Corps folks were there to provide. Right now, they need food, water, tarps to replace roofs, electrical power, basic communications. Everything is down.

For a powerful evocation of the situation, see the speech above that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit delivered at the United Nations on Saturday. The video is above. Here are excerpts:

I come to you straight from the front line of the war on climate change….

Mr. President warmer air and sea temperatures have permanently altered the climate between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

Heat is the fuel that takes ordinary storms – storms we could normally master in our sleep – and supercharges them into a devastating force.

In the past we would prepare for one heavy storm a year.

Now, thousands of storms form on a breeze in the mid-Atlantic and line up to pound us with maximum force and fury.

Before this century no other generation had seen more than one category 5 hurricane in their lifetime.

In this century, this has happened twice…and notably it has happened in the space of just two weeks.

And may I add Mr. President, that we are only mid-way into this year’s hurricane season….

We as a country and as a region did not start this war against nature! We did not provoke it! The war has come to us!!…

While the big countries talk, the small island nations suffer. We need action….and we need it NOW!!

We in the Caribbean do not produce greenhouse gases or sulphate aerosols. We do not pollute or overfish our oceans. We have made no contribution to global warming that can move the needle.

But yet, we are among the main victims…on the frontline!

I repeat – we are shouldering the consequences of the actions of others!

Actions that endanger our very existence…and all for the enrichment of a few elsewhere.

Mr. President,

We dug graves today in Dominica!

We buried loved ones yesterday and I am sure that as I return home tomorrow, we shall discover additional fatalities, as a consequence of this encounter.

Our homes are flattened!
Our buildings roofless!

Our water pipes smashed…and road infrastructure destroyed!

Our hospital is without power!…and schools have disappeared beneath the rubble.

Our crops are uprooted.

Where there was green there is now only dust and dirt!

The desolation is beyond imagination.
Mr. President, fellow leaders – The stars have fallen…..!

Eden is broken!!…

The time has come for the international community to make a stand and to decide; whether it will be shoulder to shoulder with those suffering the ravages of climate change worldwide; Whether we can mitigate the consequences of unprecedented increases in sea temperatures and levels; whether to help us rebuild sustainable livelihoods; or whether the international community will merely show some pity now, and then flee….; relieved to know that this time it was not you….

Today we need all the things required in a natural disaster that has affected an entire nation.

We need water, food and emergency shelter.

We need roads, bridges and new infrastructure.

But we also need capabilities of delivery….

I call upon those with substantial military capacities to lend us the rescue and rebuilding equipment that may be standing idle waiting for a war; Let Dominica today be that war. ….because currently, our landscape reflects a zone of war.

The United States has already committed some of its military resources to helping. This release was sent out by U.S. Southern Command on Friday:

MIAMI — U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) directed the U.S. Navy amphibious ship USS Wasp to the Leeward Islands, where it will support U.S. State Department assistance to U.S. citizens in Dominica, as well as U.S. foreign disaster assistance requested by Caribbean nations impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The ship’s arrival will expand the mission of Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands (JTF-LI), which deployed to San Juan, Puerto Rico Sept. 9 to support U.S. relief operations in St. Martin. To date, the task force has purified more than 22,000 gallons and distributed more than 7,000 gallons of water, delivered nine water purification systems, as well as high-capacity forklifts and vehicles to help the Dutch and French governments offload and distribute aid to the island’s residents.

USS Wasp arrived off the coast of Dominica today with two embarked SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters, bringing the total military helicopters flying missions for the task force to 10.

The task force is scheduled to begin its support to USAID-led assistance to the government of Dominica over the next 24 hours.

The airlift and transport capabilities of amphibious ships make them uniquely suited to support the delivery and distribution of much-needed relief supplies, as well as transport humanitarian assistance personnel in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster….

Beyond that, I’m concerned at the moment about whether our country is adequately responding. The release says Wasp is there to support “USAID-led assistance to the government of Dominica.” But elsewhere, I read that USAID has so far allocated only $100,000 to the effort, according to Dominica News Online:

Working through the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the Government of the United States committed USD$100,000 to provide immediate humanitarian assistance, and will be working closely with the Dominica Red Cross to address the most critical needs. According to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), 100 percent  of the country was affected by Maria’s Category 4 fury, with approximately 56,890 persons impacted….

One hopes that’s just the beginning of what we do — funding needs assessment before sending the real help. The Brits — Dominica was once a British colony — had needs-assessment people on the ground last week, and now they’ve pledged £5 million. Which is more like it.

In the meantime, if you’d like to do something personally to help, here are a couple of small ways you can:

  • Tarps for Dominica — Reports indicate that most homes on the island have lost part or all of their roofs. This is an effort to provide the most basic shelter for the moment by raising funds through Gofundme for 1,000 tarps.
  • Caribbean Strong — To quote from Facebook, “Carib Brewery will donate $5 for every post shared using the hashtag #BeCaribbeanStrong! We are starting with $500,000.00 and our goal is to raise $1,000,000.000 from September 21st to October 31st. Lookout for our digital thermometer to know when we have reached the $1M pledge! Share with our hashtag today to contribute toward relief efforts!”

I’ll share more as I know more…

Screengrab from video by The Evening Standard of London.

Screengrab from video by The Evening Standard of London.

‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode Three: ‘The River Styx’

flowers

There are a lot of things I don’t understand about the war in Vietnam, and I’ve been hoping Ken Burns’ new series would help me sort out.

One is North Vietnam’s complicated relationship with, on the one hand, the Soviet Union, and on the other hand with China.

It would be so easy to explain the North as the Russians’ client state, and at times as I’ve read about the war, that has appeared to be the case. Other times, China seems to have played that role. And over the years, I’ve thought, how can both be true, given the bitter split between the world’s two biggest communist countries back in the ’60s?

And yet, I’m learning from the series, apparently the answer was indeed “both.”

Both poured considerable resources into helping the North — the Chinese sending 320,000 people (I’m saying that from memory — I didn’t write the number down during the show), and the Soviets sending vast amounts of materiel along with advisers.

How did Hanoi maintain that uneasy balance? With great difficulty, apparently.

And the split in those two nations’ attitudes toward Marxism’s inevitable march through history was reflected in North Vietnam’s leadership. Ho Chi Minh subscribed to the less aggressive, more accommodating approach pushed by Moscow. (He, for instance, was very upset that North Vietnamese gunboats had fired on Americans in the Tonkin Gulf.) Le Duan, who increasingly gained greater sway over Hanoi at Ho’s expense, favored the more extreme, violent, approach of the Maoists.

One thing about the commies: They weren’t monolithic. Which takes us back to my Unified Field Theory of human affairs: People are complicated, regardless of how they try to boil things down into simple ideologies.

Here’s a detail that particularly struck me last night: The part where China sent those 300,000-plus people to help with the war effort. They did it in a way that marked a profound contrast to the American approach: They send them to take on rear-echelon jobs to free North Vietnamese soldiers to go to the front.

In doing that, they embodied Donald Trump’s notion of international relations (reiterated in his speech to the U.N. yesterday): That every nation looks out for itself, that it’s all about self-interest.

Meanwhile, LBJ was sending entire American combat units over to fight, bleed and die for the Vietnamese.

The clip below shows the reaction of one Vietnamese woman to that. And there were many others like her. Key excerpt:

We’re such a small and poor country, and the Americans have decided to come in to save us — not only with their money, their reseources, but even with their own lives.

We were very grateful…

As I’ve done the last couple of days, my intention here is just to share a thought or two from the episode, something that jumped out at me, as a conversation starter. There was enough in last night’s episode to fill a book with.

Perhaps you would like to make other points based upon it…

Who can be as foolhardy and reckless as Trump? The Democrats…

900px-Flag_of_South_Korea.svg

Here’s an excellent example of why it won’t be the Democrats who save us from Trump.

At least, not these Democrats.

Possibly the most foolish thing Trump has done in the last few days (and yeah, I know there are a lot of exciting entries in a crowded field) is this, at the very moment we’re facing an increased threat from North Korea:

President Trump has instructed advisers to prepare to withdraw the United States from a free-trade agreement with South Korea, several people close to the process said, a move that would stoke economic tensions with the U.S. ally as both countries confront a crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Withdrawing from the trade deal would back up Trump’s promises to crack down on what he considers unfair trade competition from other countries, but his top national security and economic advisers are pushing him to abandon the plan, arguing it would hamper U.S. economic growth and strain ties with an important ally. Officials including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn oppose withdrawal, said people familiar with the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.

Although it is still possible Trump could decide to stay in the agreement to renegotiate its terms, the internal preparations for terminating the deal are far along, and the formal withdrawal process could begin as soon as this week, the people said….

You know why those top aides don’t want him to do this, especially now? Because they have brains. They know that free-trade agreements bind nations closer together, aside from producing more wealth overall.

This is absolutely no time for slapping allies in the face in that part of the world — or anywhere, of course.

But fortunately, there’s a loyal opposition out there poised to the save the country from this nonsense, right?

Uhhhh… no (imagine I said that in a Butthead voice). This was in the Post the same day as the above:

 Democrats facing reelection next year in states President Trump won are seizing on trade at this early stage as a crucial issue and a Republican vulnerability.

But rather than jeer Trump’s protectionist positions, Democrats are echoing them and amplifying them, arguing that Trump has failed to fulfill his dramatic campaign promise to rip apart trade deals.

“When we say renegotiating NAFTA, we mean a transformation, something substantial, not just going through the motions,” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) told union leaders recently, referring to the administration’s talks over the North American Free Trade Agreement.

For Democrats, Casey’s pitch signals a wholehearted revival of their labor roots and a sharp departure from the free-trade tilt of the past two Democratic presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton….

So, according to these Dems, the trouble with Trump is that he’s not Trumpy enough.

Notice how eager they are to repudiate the views of the last two Democrats who won presidential elections?

Brilliant, just brilliant….

How much Harvey coverage is enough?

IMG_1309

OK, people are going to start throwing brickbats at me for being mean and uncaring, an apathetic monster.

But I’m not. In fact, I have relatives I saw just the other day down at the beach who have thus far been unable to return to their homes in Lake Charles. I get the human cost. I care.

I’m just asking, how much coverage of Hurricane Harvey do we need? And my tentative answer is, “Maybe a little less than we’re getting.” Or maybe the same amount, played a little bit differently. Or maybe I’m wrong. It’s just a gut thing, based on my experience the last few days.

I ask this as a guy who has spent most of his life as a newspaper editor, figuring out how best to deploy finite resources — people, space, time. You can’t cover everything, so what will you cover, and to what extent? And how will you present it?

I was part of the team at The State that was a runner-up for the Pulitzer in 1989 for our coverage of Hugo (we’d have won it, too, if San Francisco hadn’t had an earthquake in the middle of the World Series). I’m proud of that wall-to-wall coverage that went on for days, weeks, while our state struggled to recover.

But as someone who is sitting outside the affected area, looking at national media outlets, I have to think the coverage, and/or the play, may be a tad excessive.

You may recall — if you’ve read anything other than Harvey coverage — that a lot of people accused Trump of burying the pardon of Joe Arpaio by doing it as the storm bore down on the Texas coast. But here’s the thing about that: News organizations can still cover such a political development, and play it prominently — if they choose to.

The last couple of days, I’ve started wondering about news organizations’ willingness to do so.

In the past day, North Korea fired a missile over Japan. Meanwhile, it was learned that a guy who worked for Trump reached out to a high Russian official for help in building a Trump tower in Moscow at the height of last year’s election.

You will say, But that’s just petty politics, and we need to take a break from that stuff when there’s something that affects real people happening — such as a big storm.

Well, yes and no. Assertions such as that always bring me back to the First Amendment. The reason the press has that special protection in the Constitution is so that it can make you aware of things you need to know in order to be an informed, empowered voter.

The kinds of decisions that you, as a citizen, are called on to make with regard to Harvey, are limited. You can volunteer to go help, if you see a way you can do so and make a real contribution. You can give money, or donate food or clothing, or give blood, if those things are identified as needs. You can tell your congressman you want him to vote to fully fund FEMA.

And I think that coverage that a) communicates the situation fully, and b) clearly shows how you can help is all to the good. Give us that coverage, and plenty of it.

But cover the other stuff, too. And, yes, that is definitely happening, or I wouldn’t know about those things. But I get the impression that these other important stories are getting pushed to the margins.

Look at the home pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times, above and below. Those screenshots contain nothing but headlines about Harvey. If you scrolled down on both of those pages, for at least another half a screen, it would be all Harvey.

And to me, that seems a bit… off. What’s wrong with letting people know, in their first glance at your news offerings, that there are other important things happening as well — such as the aforementioned missile over Japan? Harvey could still get the biggest headlines, and the most of them. But give us some balance, some perspective.

It’s a big planet, and most of it is not affected by Harvey. There’s a lot of other stuff going on. Don’t hold back from telling us anything we need to know about Harvey. But tell us the other stuff as well, and don’t bury it.

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Postwar consensus about U.S. role under fire from all directions

He believed in it, and so do I.

He believed in it, and so do I.

On a previous thread, we were having yet another discussion of “American exceptionalism.” Never mind where it started. At some point I said this and Doug said this and I said this and then Phillip weighed in.

And I answered Phillip at sufficient length that I thought it should be a separate post, so here goes:

Seeing as it’s Phillip and I have the greatest respect for him, I’m not going to send my seconds to confer with his seconds over his having called me a liar. Which is the only way I know to take “a feat of semantic gymnastics designed to make yourself feel more virtuous about your viewpoint.”

I’ll just say: Actually, no. There are no gymnastics involved when you’re saying exactly what you mean, and I’m saying exactly what I mean. As I suggested, there are people who DO think that way — the “superiority over” way. As I also said, people who dislike the phrase “American exceptionalism” — generally post-Vietnam liberals (as opposed to pre-Vietnam liberals, who saw things as I do) — like to paint the rest of us with that same brush, as a way of dismissing our views. As though we were a bunch of Steve Bannons or something.

But that’s not the main point I wish to argue. The larger point is that this assertion is completely wrong: “‘Responsibility’ in this case is self-assigned, that is, the United States arrogates for itself this ‘responsibility’ globally.”

Not at all. Through various security and other diplomatic arrangements, other liberal democracies have looked to the United States for leadership and support in many ways since 1945. This is most obvious through NATO, but through other arrangements as well.

Again, I refer y’all to the start of that Foreign Affairs piece:

In the 1940s, after two world wars and a depression, Western policymakers decided enough was enough. Unless international politics changed in some fundamental way, humanity itself might not survive much longer.

A strain of liberal idealism had been integral to U.S. identity from the American founding onward, but now power could be put behind principle. Woodrow Wilson had fought “to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles.” Keeping his goals while noting his failures, the next generation tried again with a revised strategy, and this time they succeeded. The result became known as the postwar liberal international order.

The founders of the order embraced cooperation with like-minded powers, rejecting isolationism and casting themselves as player-managers of an ever-expanding team. They bailed out the United Kingdom, liberated France, rehabilitated Germany and Japan, bound themselves to Canada and Mexico, and more. And for seven decades, the allies were fruitful, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty.

Then arose up a new king who knew not Joseph….

And we know who that king is.

But it’s not just about him. If you go back to that thread where this discussion initiated, you’ll see that Doug enthusiastically applauded the comment from Phillip with which I argued. You may not think of those guys as being two peas in a pod, politically. And you certainly wouldn’t identify Phillip with Trump. Well, that brings me to my next point.

A startling array of people coming from many places on the political spectrum simply don’t believe in the postwar consensus that formed under FDR and Truman.

For a generation, that consensus stayed strong and almost unchallenged, with Democrats and Republicans differing mainly over how best to fulfill that role. Then things started breaking up over Vietnam, but the basic assumption that this country had obligations in the world continued, with variations in emphasis, through the Obama administration.

Now, it’s really under siege.

I mentioned Steve Bannon earlier. He, of course, doesn’t believe in our international obligations in part because he believes the U.S. is inherently superior. He’s sort of like those Chinese emperors who, with China positioned at least as well as Portugal and Spain to become a global trading and naval power, suddenly closed their country off to the world, under the theory that China was the center of the universe and superior to all other nations, so why have dealings with them?

Then there are the post-Vietnam liberals to whom I referred, and I hope Phillip doesn’t mind if I put him roughly in that category — I stand ready to be corrected if I’m being presumptuous. I hate to be labeled, so I hesitate to do it to my friends.

Then there are the libertarians like Doug and the Pauls, Ron and Rand. They hate the idea of the United States having a military for anything much beyond patrolling the border with Mexico. (No, wait — that last part took me back to Bannon.)

Then there are the socialists, the Bernie Sanders types, who in opposition to the libertarians WANT a big state, but they only want it to exist to shower blessings on the populace domestically. They get impatient at the very idea of talking foreign affairs. This is in some ways like the post-Vietnam liberals, only much more so.

Then there are the ideological extremists who have taken over the Republican Party, sharing some characteristics with the Bannon types and some with the libertarians. They can’t see over the edges of the narrow boxes they build around themselves, much less see beyond our borders.

The all have their motivations. One group just wants the U.S. to strut, out of the world’s reach. Another wants America to be humble. Another wants it to be small. Another wants it to be inward-looking, solipsistic. Another can’t see anything past the next GOP primary.

There’s no room in any of their views for a United States that would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Anyway, that thing that JFK said there? That’s American exceptionalism.

Graham’s enthusiastic response to Trump’s Afghan plan

Trump still

I missed Trump’s speech last night because I was writing that post about Jack Van Loan — and was surprised when I went back downstairs to find that it was over. I thought I’d catch at least some of it.

But I’m familiar with the gist. And since I got this response from Lindsey Graham today, I’ll use that as a device to get into the subject:

Graham: “Gloves Are Off Inside Of Afghanistan”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) last night on Fox News reacted to President Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy.

Ø  GRAHAM: “I think there will be a lot of bipartisan support in Congress for this new proposal. I’m proud. I’m relieved. I’m proud of the fact that President Trump made a national security decision, not a political decision. I’m proud of the fact that he listened to the generals. I’m most proud of the fact that he shows the will to stand up to radical Islam.” https://youtu.be/2oZhfvbGd9c?t=9s

Ø  GRAHAM: “We’re going to make our decisions based on conditions on the ground, not on the arbitrary passing of time. So hats off to President Trump for not becoming General Trump. Because General Obama was a real lousy general, and that’s part of the mess we’re inheriting…” https://youtu.be/2oZhfvbGd9c?t=2m49s

First, let me say that while I, too, disagreed with him on Afghanistan, I would take President Obama — or either Bush, Clinton or Reagan — back in a skinny minute if it meant getting rid of Trump. And I could really do without the silly red-meat stuff about “gloves are off” and “the will to stand up to radical Islam.” It’s silly, and undermines serious people’s ability to take him seriously. He’s a smart man; he can express himself more intelligently, however much he wants to repair relations with what is euphemistically called “the base.”

Next, I’ll shift gears and express my great relief that for once, Trump seems to have allowed himself to learn from experts rather than going with his gut. That’s a big step. We’d be in a lot better shape if he’d learn to listen to ALL experts, and not just the generals — although listening to generals is a fine start.

Finally, I agree with Graham and Trump that setting deadlines to leave Afghanistan is the worst of ideas.

My rule of thumb is this: If we send troops into a situation with a departure date in mind, we shouldn’t send the troops in at all. Nor should we set dates for departure after we send them in. That makes it almost impossible to achieve military objectives, whatever the objective. (“Hey, enemy, just hunker down and wait until this date, and you can take over!”)

And that’s about it, except to say again that it’s a relief to see Trump listening to people who actually know what they’re talking about, for once. Wherever we go from here in Afghanistan, this is far better than a commander-in-chief calling the shots on the basis of grossly ill-informed whim.

But my relief isn’t so enormous that I’m going to gush about it the way Graham did…