Category Archives: The World

Keep him WAY down in the hole….

This morning while working out on my elliptical trainer, I rewatched an episode of the second season of “The Wire,” and rather than skimming through the opening credits — something a bit harder to do on the Roku and have it stop where I want it — I listened to the song.

Guess which part of the words grabbed my attention, in light of current news?

… He’s got the fire and the fury
at his command.
Well, you don’t have to worry
if you hold on to Jesus’ hand.
We’ll all be safe from Satan
when the thunder rolls;
just gotta help me keep the devil
way down in the hole.

Yikes. Suddenly lyrics I’d heard a hundred times grabbed me in a whole new way….

How would Bunk and McNulty deal with North Korea?

How would Bunk and McNulty deal with North Korea?

Is Mulvaney ‘The most dangerous man in Washington?’

Mulvaney

That’s what Catherine Rampell of The Washington Post claims.

(Well, to be clear, what she means is the second most dangerous man in Washington, which she acknowledges.)

Here’s why:

It’s Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

In terms of both immensity and immediacy, the threat Mulvaney presents is far greater than any of the slow-motion train wrecks happening elsewhere in the administration. That’s because he seems hell-bent on wreaking a global crisis within the next two months.

Not a century from now. Not a decade from now. In two months.

That’s when the government will run out of money needed to pay bills Congress has already incurredaccording to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, if Congress does not act to raise the debt limit.

What would follow? Just a constitutional, political and global financial crisis….

OK. That would be bad. Important safety tip. Although I may not think about financial matters more than I’m forced to, even I understand — apparently better than the administration’s budget guy — why protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is important. But most dangerous? Maybe. But as much as I might be inclined to root for a fellow South Carolinian, I think some of the other people she names have pretty good claims to the title:

It’s not the guy in charge of our nuclear arsenal, who may or may not have realized that was the core of his job description before accepting the post (Rick Perry).

Nor is it the woman meeting with men’s rights advocates (Betsy DeVos).

And it’s not the guy who keeps adding financial assets and meetings with Russian officials to his federal disclosure forms (Jared Kushner).

It’s neither of the guys rolling back climate change regulations and sidelining scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department (Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke, respectively)….

But yeah, what Mulvaney wants to do is bad, almost in the Egon sense, financially speaking…

Beasley advocates to save U.N. World Food Programme

Beasley the last time I saw him, at the signing ceremony for the legislation to take down the Confederate flag.

Beasley the last time I saw him, at the signing ceremony for the legislation to take down the Confederate flag.

Here’s an interesting thing brought to my attention this morning by a Tweet.

To backtrack a bit first, this is from Foreign Policy back in March:

Former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley will be sworn in next week as the executive director of the World Food Program, placing the first Trump administration appointee at the helm of a major U.N. relief agency at a time when the president seeks deep cuts in funding for humanitarian causes, three senior U.N.-based diplomats told Foreign Policy.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is gambling that the appointment of Beasley — who has no experience running a major international relief operation, or with the United Nations — will help dissuade the administration from cutting a large portion of the more than $2 billion it contributes each year on the agency to help fight hunger around the world.

In making his case for the new job, according to U.N. advocates he reached out to, Beasley has highlighted his Christian faith, and an extensive network of lawmakers around the world. Most important, perhaps, are his personal relationships with a trio of powerful South Carolina politicians who hold the U.N.’s financial fate in their hands: Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees U.N. funding; and former congressman Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget chief, who has targeted the U.N. for some of the steepest cuts in the federal budget….

I didn’t realize Beasley was all that close to any of those three — the only one whose political career overlaps at all with his is Graham, and I find it very hard to imagine that the former Democrat is major buds with Mulvaney — but perhaps he is.

In any case, this Tweet this morning shows Beasley at least trying to realize the U.N.’s hopes:

This will be interesting to watch…

Can’t any English-speaking country have a normal election?

I watched this man-on-the-street video, which offered no rational explanation...

I watched this man-on-the-street video, which offered no rational explanation…

You know, it would have been nice to have been reassured that things were stable and sane over in the world’s second-greatest liberal democracy, since they’re so messed up here. It would have given me a little hope for the West.

But no-o-o-o, the Brits had to go all wobbly on us. They like to do absurd things, from dumping Winston Churchill at the very end of the war to Brexit.

I hope Theresa May learned a lesson, one akin to “Never get off the boat!” in “Apocalypse Now:” Never call a snap election, thinking it will make you stronger.

Now, basically, nobody’s in charge over there. And astoundingly, that total flake Jeremy Corbyn is stronger than ever. He’s strutting around the ring like a professional wrestler who has just clocked his adversary with a metal folding chair — which isn’t a becoming spectacle in the best of circumstances.

I remember when Labour was reasonably respectable, under my main man Tony Blair. Now, it’s not quite the thing. You can’t take it anywhere without being embarrassed.

Yeah, I know the PM was no great campaigner, but she seems relatively normal and sane, and that counts for a lot these days. Besides, I remember when the alternatives were trotted before us just last year, after Cameron quit over Brexit, and I don’t remember any of those Tories being particularly appetizing.

Anyway, very disappointing. I’d just like to see things settle down for a bit so the world can take a moment to catch its breath. Is that too much to ask?

It’s just a mess. I watched a man-on-the-street video over on The Guardian‘s site, and people who voted Labour gave lame excuses about how things needed to “change.” Well, nothing’s changed — power has not changed hands — except that the party that’s still in charge is now crippled.

I don’t see how that benefits anybody, especially with Brexit negotiations coming up

By THOR - Summer Sky in Southsea England, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5057853

By THOR – Summer Sky in Southsea England, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5057853

Thoughts on the Comey hearing?

Comey, right after he said of Trump's excuses for firing him, "Those were lies, plain and simple..."

Comey, right after he said of Trump’s excuses for firing him, “Those were lies, plain and simple…”

Well, the public part is over, and the senators will move on to the SCIF for the good stuff behind closed doors.

My initial impression: Comey came across as a completely credible witness, and in terms of integrity, honesty and respect for the rule of law, Donald Trump’s polar opposite.

You? Thoughts?

My favorite bit may have been when Comey quoted my ancestor Henry II, as a way of saying he thought Trump’s stating aloud about what he wanted (for the Flynn investigation to be dropped) being tantamount to an order. Although I’m not sure who, in the analogy, was Becket.

Anyway, y’all get started, and I’ll join in later…

Now, the senators and Comey move on to the classified portion of the hearing, in the SCIF...

Now, the senators and Comey move on to the classified portion of the hearing, in the SCIF…

Why wasn’t there a Bond girl named ‘Reality Winner?’

Reality Leigh Winner, from her Instagram page.

Reality Leigh Winner, from her Instagram page.

“Who is Reality Winner?” is today’s most popular headline. Here are versions of that story from:

Her own self-description on her Instagram page simply says, “I lift, I eat, I have a cat.” That’s followed by lots of pictures of herself lifting weights, of food, and occasionally of a cat (although at first glance, there seem to be more dog than cat pictures).

Me, I’m just impressed that there’s someone at the center of a spy story with such a perfect Bond girl name, the sort that might cause James himself to say, “I must be dreaming.” First Anna Chapman (“From Russia with Va-va-VOOM!”), now this.

But I thought it was kind of odd that most of the coverage this morning was about her being charged with the NSA leak. I sort of thought the bigger news (and maybe this was played up bigger last night when I wasn’t paying attention) was what she had revealed:

Russian intelligence agents hacked a US voting systems manufacturer in the weeks leading up to last year’s presidential election, according to the Intercept,citing what it said was a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) report.

The revelation coincided with the arrest of Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor from Augusta, Georgia, who was charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.

The hacking of senior Democrats’ email accounts during the campaign has been well chronicled, but vote-counting was thought to have been unaffected, despite concerted Russian efforts to penetrate it.

Russian military intelligence carried out a cyber-attack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than a hundred local election officials days before the poll, the Intercept reported on Monday….

You know how a lot of sticklers (particularly of the pro-Trump sort) have protested that it’s wrong to say the Russians “hacked the election,” when they didn’t actually break into our polling system, but just hacked party emails and leaked them and let the chips fall?

Which was true, which is why “hacked the election” was never the best way to say it.

Until now.

Oh, and by the way, it wasn’t some hacker “artist” operating on his own initiative, the way Putin tried to suggest the other day (channeling Trump with his “400-pound hacker“). This was the GRU

U.S. goes where only Syria and Nicaragua have gone before

Whole Earth

So what if the United States, guided by the wisdom of our cheerless leader, has pulled out of the Paris Accord signed by more than 190 other nations?

It’s not like we’re going to be alone! We’ll be joining, um, Syria. And Nicaragua! So, yay us, huh? Now we’ll be pace-setters, too!

President Trump declared that the United States would leave the Paris climate agreement, following months of infighting among Trump’s staff that left the world in suspense. He said he hopes to negotiate a similar deal that is more favorable to the U.S.

This move is one of several Obama-era environmental milestones that Trump has dismantled. And all the while, a new study shows global temperatures might be rising faster than expected.

Leaving the agreement displaces the U.S. from a stance of global leadership and places it alongside just two non-participating countries: Syria, which is in the midst of a civil war, and Nicaragua, who refused to join because the Paris Agreement didn’t go far enough. Even countries such as Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are among the poorest in the world and were struggling with an Ebola epidemic at the time, have signed on….

And yes, in answer to the question that a Trump supporter asked on the blog earlier today, China and India are taking part in the accord. Not only that, they’re stepping up into the leadership role the United States is forfeiting:

Earlier this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on a visit to Berlin, stood alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and said that failing to act on climate change was a “morally criminal act.”

And earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping called the 2015 climate accord in Paris “a hard-won achievement” and urged other signers to stick to their pledges instead of walking away — “as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.”

In the past, there was skepticism in both countries about Western calls for emissions reductions, which were seen as hypocritical. The strong public comments now underline how far opinion both countries has moved in recent years, and the rhetorical leadership is extremely welcome, experts say….

Oh, and by the way — it’s not just words. China is not only living up to what it’s promised, it’s ahead of schedule in reducing its carbon footprint.

China is, of course, in this and other areas (such as TPP), only too happy to assume the mantle of global leadership that the United States is so eagerly, and so stupidly, laying aside.

‘Trump the Thucydidean’ — OK, yeah; I hear it…

Occasionally, I get a little glimpse into what Trump voters object to when they behold the folk they see as out-of-touch elites — particularly those whom their spiritual godfather George Wallace called “pointy-headed intellectuals.”

An interesting discussion came on “On Point” this morning, just as I was arriving at the office. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to listen to the whole thing. One of the guests was Graham Allison titled “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” It’s about what may be the inevitable coming clash between these two behemoths, and you can hardly find a topic more important than that. Here’s an excerpt from a 2015 magazine article in which the author set out the concept:

When Barack Obama meets this week with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s first state visit to America, one item probably won’t be on their agenda: the possibility that the United States and China could find themselves at war in the next decade. In policy circles, this appears as unlikely as it would be unwise.

Thucydides

Thucydides

And yet 100 years on, World War I offers a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for folly. When we say that war is “inconceivable,” is this a statement about what is possible in the world—or only about what our limited minds can conceive? In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.

The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team of mine at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part not just of the challenger but also the challenged….

It’s one of those Big Ideas that explain the importance of so many others. It explains why President Obama, and Hillary Clinton before she went all Bernie, rightly saw the Trans-Pacific Partnership as so important — you know, the thing Trump killed without a thought the moment he took office.

Still, knowing all that, when I heard the author mention how “Thucydidean” Trump was being, I thought, “OK, now I hear it. I see what all the anti-intellectuals are on about…”

Graham: Trump budget could cause ‘a lot of Benghazis’

And you know that, coming from Lindsey Graham, that’s a bad thing.

Here’s what The Washington Post is reporting:

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 State Department budget proposal irresponsibly cuts diplomacy and diplomatic security in a way that could cause “a lot of Benghazis,” according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on the State Department and foreign operations. He promised that Congress would reject the cuts.Graham mug

“If we implemented this budget, we’d have to retreat from the world and put a lot of people at risk,” Graham said on the day the Trump administration is releasing its detailed budget proposal for next year. “A lot of Benghazis in the making if we actually implemented the State Department cuts.”

Overall, the Trump administration is proposing to cut the budget for the State Department and USAID, from the $54.9 billion estimated total in fiscal 2017 to $37.6 billion in fiscal 2018 — a reduction of $17.3 billion, or 31 percent. Not counting emergency funding, known as Overseas Contingency Operations funding, the Trump budget would cut the State Department and USAID by 29 percent.

“A 29 percent cut means you really have to withdraw from the world because your presence is compromised,” Graham said. “That may be the goal of this budget. It’s not my goal. This guts soft power as we know it.”…

As is usually the case when Graham tries to hold Trump accountable, I agree wholeheartedly…

 

You can sort of tell Bret Stephens is no longer at the WSJ

Sally

Or maybe you can’t. His title was deputy editorial page editor, but I don’t know how editorial decisions are made at that paper, so I can’t say whether he had any influence over board positions, much less a decisive one. There is evidence to indicate his influence didn’t extend far beyond his own columns — even though, for a period last year, the Journal did seem genuinely interested in stopping Trump.

In any case, the paper’s editorial about Lindsey Graham’s hearings on Russian meddling in our election, flippantly headlined “When the Senate Met Sally” (you can read the whole thing here), was rather lacking in deep concern about what Sen. Graham was (from what I’ve read and heard) legitimately focused on — the Russians.

And it ended with a conclusion that was as pure a Republican talking point as you could find — trying to distract from what the Russians did to how we knew about it, or at least how we knew about Michael Flynn’s role:

So far the only crime we know about in this drama is the leak of Mr. Flynn’s name to the press as having been overheard when U.S. intelligence was eavesdropping on the Russian ambassador. Mr. Flynn’s name was leaked in violation of the law after he was “unmasked” by an Obama Administration official and his name was distributed widely across the government.

We don’t know who did the unmasking, but on Monday both Mrs. Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted that while in office they had personally reviewed classified reports about “Mr. Trump, his officials or members of Congress” who had been “unmasked.” Both also admitted that they had shared that information with others in government, though they did deny leaking to the press.

We thought readers might like to know those details in case they go unreported anywhere else in the press. The unmasking of the names of political opponents is a serious concern, and the American people need to know how and why that happened here.

That’s the sort of thing the Trump White House would put out, if it had its act together and was capable of projecting a coherent, consistent message. Which, as we know, it isn’t.

Oh, and by the way… As for that childishly petulant “in case they go unreported anywhere else in the press,” I was fully aware of it before I got to the WSJ. I think I first read of Republicans’ fixation on that point in The Washington Post. Anyway, the Journal knows (or should know) better than to say such things as that. It’s more what you’d expect to see in a Tweet from Trump himself, not serious writing by anyone who knows what he’s about…

graham yates

OK, so China has built a carrier. Do they know where it is?

Up until now, China just had this busted-a__ used one they got from the Russians.

Up until now, China just had this busted-a__ used one they got from the Russians.

I suspect they do. Unlike us, they don’t have so many that they can afford to mislay one.

Anyway, for China this is a big step, since they only had one carrier before, and it was second-hand:

BEIJING — China has launched its first aircraft carrier built entirely on its own, in a demonstration of the growing technical sophistication of its defense industries and determination to safeguard its maritime territorial claims and crucial trade routes.

The 50,000-ton carrier was towed from its dockyard just after 9 a.m. Wednesday following a ceremony in the northern port city of Dalian, where its predecessor, the Soviet-built Liaoning, underwent extensive refurbishing before being commissioned in 2012, the Ministry of National Defense said.

Development of the new carrier began in 2013 and construction in late 2015. It’s expected to be formally commissioned sometime before 2020, after sea trials and the arrival of its full air complement.

The carrier program is a key part of China’s naval expansion at a time when it is looking to beef-up its regional military influence to match its economic might. While China says it maintains a defensive military policy, its ambitions are rattling some neighbors who see Beijing as fueling already enflamed tensions in the region….

On the one hand, such a milestone is laughable. I mean, look at Japan: How many carriers did they lose in a single day, back in 1942? Here we are 75 years later, and China’s launching its first one? (Of course, building and deploying a state-of-the-art carrier is vastly more complex and expensive than it was back in the day.)

Also, think how enormous a challenge lies before a country that does not have generations of aviators who have landed on carriers, or a force of support personnel skilled at running the process of underway air operations.

On the other hand — China, with a demonstrated desire to throw its weight around in the region (and a carrier gives you a great deal of weight to throw), is committed to moving dramatically forward in its capacity to project naval power. It stands out in this regard globally. Britain, for instance, currently has zero operating carriers, although they have some new ones in the works. (Yes, that Britain — the one that used to rule the waves. Try to imagine the Brits in Nelson’s day without a single line-of-battle ship.)

So, you know… significant development here…

Yes, the entire U.S. Senate going to the White House for a briefing on North Korea does worry me

Yikes.

Just got an email from Norm Ivey asking, “I trust your judgement on this stuff. Does this news worry you?

You bet it does. It’s from Reuters (which is to say, actual news, not fake):

Entire U.S. Senate to go to White House for North Korea briefing

Top Trump administration officials will hold a rare briefing on Wednesday at the White House for the entire U.S. Senate on the situation in North Korea, senior Senate aides said on Monday.download (1)

All 100 senators have been asked to the White House for the briefing by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the aides said.

While top administration officials routinely travel to Capitol Hill to address members of Congress on foreign policy and national security matters, it is unusual for the entire 100-member Senate to go to such an event at the White House, and for those four top officials to be involved….

Yeah. No kidding…

Trump launches direct attack on Syria

OK, so… as someone said on Twitter a few moments ago, Donald Trump has enforced Barack Obama’s “red line” in Syria.

What do I think about that?

Well, it’s complicated.

As a response, this is both measured and forceful. This is out of the Bill Clinton playbook, not George W. Bush’s: Fire some cruise missiles at them, and call the job done. The fact that it was, we are told, the base from which the gas attack was launched smacks of justice. The fact that we have now directly attacked the forces of Russia’s client is a serious cause for concern.

Of course, the fact that this is Donald Trump, a man who until yesterday had Steve Bannon of Breitbart in the most sensitive of national security inner circles, is very, very worrying.

By Trump standards, his statement tonight was measured, said the right things. The word choices were as usual inelegant (and therefore authentic), but the messages he was trying to communicate were the right ones. Will that be the case tomorrow, and the next day?

There’s the rub.

What will he do when the Russians do whatever they do? Talk about a scary complication to a relationship that we already had a lot of cause to worry about, in ways that were entirely different from this. Nothing is normal here. Who can predict what will happen?

I think, I think, I would be OK with this response to Assad’s war crimes, if any previous president had taken this action. I’d be worried, but I wouldn’t be as uneasy as I am now. Especially if I knew his national security team had thoroughly thought it out and was behind the action.

But now…

It’s like…

Any of y’all familiar with “Band of Brothers,” by which I mean the TV series based on the book based on real life? Are you familiar enough to know that the seventh episode, titled “The Breaking Point,” was the best in the series?

Well, I’ve been thinking about that part of the story today. And my thoughts have run this way: There was nobody in Easy Company — at least no one among the original Toccoa men — who wasn’t ready to do his duty and take the village of Foy, as the 101st struck back in the last days of the Bulge.

There was just one thing that made them hesitant: The idea of rushing across that open field toward the town under the leadership of the feckless Lieutenant Norman Dike.

Anyway, I think I’d be ready to follow just about any previous president across this open field of uncertainty.

But I’m really, really worried about Lt. Dike.

Yeah, I realize this isn’t very accessible to non-fans of the series. It’s just the best analogy I could think of to try to explain my reaction. I’m going to go to bed now, and see if I’m any wiser in the morning…

But would you follow if it was Lt. Dike leading?

But would you follow if it was Lt. Dike leading?

“President United States” Nikki Haley

Nikki 1

My wife was watching her Reuters TV app yesterday, and at one point she said, “Why does it say ‘president’ under Nikki Haley’s name?”

I thought at first that she meant Reuters had made a mistake in the chyron under the video, and thinking there might be a light blog post in it, I downloaded the app myself just to watch the clip.

Turns out that no, Reuters had made no mistake. And the label wasn’t part of some ephemeral electronic crawl, but an actual, physical sign in front of her that said “PRESIDENT,” next to a sign just like it that said, “UNITED STATES.”

This juxtaposition would have freaked me out a bit a year or two ago, as it did whenever I heard or read national pundits referring to her as running-mate material. Only more so. But now, Donald J. Trump actually is president of the United States, and I would far rather see Nikki — or almost any reasonably normal person — in that job.

As for the “PRESIDENT” sign, that’s easily explained. She’s taking her turn this month presiding over the Security Council (another thing that might have freaked me out a year ago, but as I explained before, things have changed).

But let’s, just for the sake of variety, speak for a moment to the substance. If you didn’t see and hear her speech before the Security Council, here it is:

That clip culminates with her line that’s been quoted a good bit over the last 24, “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”

Which sounds ominous, of course. But it seemed quite natural after she stood up and displayed those pictures.

The good news is that the Steve Bannon isolationist America-First nonsense seems to be fading into the background this week. The bad news is that we might soon have (more) troops fighting in Syria, a country where you can’t walk across the street without tripping over one of Trump’s buddy Putin’s people.

So, a tense situation.

But that’s not my point in this post. What is my point? I guess it’s to say that at this difficult moment, Nikki did a pretty good job…

Nikki 2

Can we make the presidency great again? Please?

jan14-2-img

An interesting conversation started in response to one of the items on yesterday’s Open Thread, and I’d like to continue it here.

The item was this:

The American presidency is shrinking before the world’s eyes

… Every new administration has a shakeout period. But this assumes an ability to learn from mistakes. And this would require admitting mistakes. The spectacle of an American president blaming a Fox News commentator for a major diplomatic incident was another milestone in the miniaturization of the presidency.

An interested foreigner (friend or foe) must be a student of Trump’s temperament, which is just as bad as advertised. He is inexperienced, uninformed, easily provoked and supremely confident in his own judgment. His advantage is the choice of some serious, experienced advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell. But success in their jobs depends on Trump’s listening skills.

Mere incompetence would be bad enough. But foreigners trying to understand the United States must now study (of all things) the intellectual influences of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon….

It’s a wonder that the author, Michael Gerson, was able to type “the intellectual influences of… Stephen K. Bannon” without his fingers rebelling and refusing their duty.

In response, Bryan Caskey posed this question:

Yeah. It’s been going downhill for awhile. Raises the interesting question: When was the American Presidency at its apex in the world? Which President cast the longest shadow on the world stage?

Mark Stewart responded with his nominees, but I’d like to see some thoughts from others.

My own views…

Franklin Delano Roosevelt towers over all. I measure all by that. He’s the standard to rise to. (Yes, Lincoln was our greatest president, but not so much “on the world stage.” He was rather tied up here at home. And in his case, I can forgive that.)

Truman, Ike, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush père and the others are measured by how well they navigated the world order that FDR left them.

The presidency began to diminish with the end of the Cold War. When people started talking about “peace dividends” and domestic agendas and saying obnoxious things like “It’s the economy, stupid” — that’s where the decline started.

Oh, and before you (especially you Democrats, but some of you populists and culture warriors on the right as well) get on a high horse defending domestic priorities, try doing this: Add up the domestic accomplishments of all of U.S. presidents from 1991 on, and I think you’ll find the result is a tiny fraction of what LBJ — or FDR — did domestically in a single year. (Say, 1964-65.)

Presidents and Congresses no longer do great things, globally or domestically. They just jockey for position in the next election.

OK, so that’s a bit broad and perhaps unfair. But compared to Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson, the pickings are pretty slim, and the ambitions for the country less impressive. I mean, look at THE big agenda item for Republicans now that they finally hold all the cards. What do they most want to do? Undo something that was done under the last administration, which by the way was the most ambitious thing Washington has tried to since the days when LBJ did bigger things than that before breakfast.

That, and build a big ol’ wall to keep them pesky Mexicans out.

In other words, low, petty, mean, small, crabby things that diminish us as a nation, that drag us down into being even less than we are in these uninspiring times.

And what’s the greatest ambition of the Democrats? To stop them from doing those things. Or maybe to try to stop them, and fail, and use it in the next election — which is as far as any of these people’s horizons extend.

What would it take actually to Make America Great Again, or at least have the office of president — and if we really want to aim high, Congress — be something we can respect?

And how on Earth do we get there from this profoundly low, demeaning spot in the road?

jfk010-785

About this insanity of cutting State Dept. by almost 30 percent

Can’t let the day go buy without a post about Trump’s (and Mulvaney’s) insane proposal to cut the State Department by almost 30 percent:

The State Department faces cuts of nearly 29 percent, with $10 billion shaved off its core program funding under proposals to eliminate climate-change initiatives and to slash foreign aid, contributions to the United Nations and cultural exchanges.main-qimg-1e106bd58fc14b936332fa029ea62318

The basic budget for the State Department and USAID, which houses many U.S. development and economic aid programs around the world, will shrink from $36.7 billion to $25.6 billion. The Trump budget also calls for $1.5 billion for Treasury International Programs, a 35 percent reduction from the previous year, a figure the White House included in its discussion of State’s budget. The administration also proposes $12 billion for operations in war-torn areas such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, down from more than $20 billion this year. Overall, the budget would shrink from $52.8 billion to $37.6 billion.

The proposal reflects a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy to an “America First” focus on whether programs meet specific U.S. interests. Many of the spending cuts are in programs whose missions are deemed poorly managed or insufficient in advancing U.S. foreign policy goals….

I’ll also share this from U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s President and CEO Liz Schrayer:

“America First starts with protecting our national security and as our military leaders are the first to say: hard power alone will not keep America safe. The danger of cutting one-third of our civilian forces at a time of such extreme global threats, famines of historic proportions, and a refugee crisis not seen since World War II is unimaginable.

This debate between hard and soft power is a relic of the Cold War that ended after 9/11. Congress must recognize that we face complex 21st century threats from the rise of ISIS to the pandemics that can show up on our shores. Reject these dangerous cuts to diplomacy and development and invest in smart power – military and civilian tools alike. The stakes are just too high for America to retreat.”

Note the statements from religious, business, NGO and military leaders linked from that page.

Incidentally, the USGLC is the outfit that SC GOP Chair Matt Moore is leaving to go work for.

Here’s a statement on this stuff from Lindsey Graham:

“Historically, presidential budgets do not fare well with Congress.

“I appreciate that this budget increases defense spending, yet these increases in defense come at the expense of national security, soft power, and other priorities.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and President Trump to create a budget that is fiscally responsible, makes our country safer, and preserves wise investments in our future.”

Graham isn’t alone. Overall, his budget is not faring well with Republicans in Congress:

Defense hawks, rural conservatives and even some of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress sharply criticized the president’s first budget proposal on Thursday, pushing back on the huge potential hike in defense spending as insufficient and decrying some other cuts to federal agencies and programs.

Capitol Hill Republicans, however, did not seem terribly worried about the prospect of such a budget being enacted, stating matter-of-factly that it is Congress, after all, that controls the purse strings.

“Presidents propose, Congress disposes,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “We’ve not had our chance yet.”

Rogers was one of several GOP lawmakers to dismiss Trump’s budget as a pie-in-the sky wishlist with little hope of surviving negotiations in Congress. Most Republicans gave passing support to Trump’s general goal of increasing defense spending while reducing costs elsewhere in the budget. But none would embrace the specific White House blueprint….

You notice something? All these people who know something about governing are on one side, and the new “outsider” president is on the other. You know why? Because he and his loyal retainers, who wouldn’t know a fact if it bit them on the… ankle…,  don’t have a clue.

A place to comment on Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0

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And yeah, that’s what it is. Clear away the nonsense and that’s what you’re left with. He said when he ran for president that that’s what he’d do, and this is his second attempt to get away with doing it.

All the whys and wherefores and details and adjustments are kind of irrelevant to me. What I see is that the entire effort — which he has made the top priority of his first days in office — is completely unnecessary. It’s an overwrought, complicated solution to a problem that does not exist. It is absurd every bit as much as it is offensive and unAmerican.

The administration keeps mouthing the ridiculous justification that this is needed to “keep America safe.” I won’t go into that except to note that Charles Krauthammer — who takes a backseat to no one in advocating for national security — dealt with that with the contempt that it deserved a month ago: “Not a single American has ever been killed in a terror attack in this country by a citizen from the notorious seven.” Which is now six, Trump having discovered that Iraq is an ally.

So, you say what you have to say about it. I’m done for the moment…

Has the West ceased to believe in itself?

Last week, I read another excellent piece by Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. It was headlined “Do We Still Want the West?,” with the subhed, “The best antidote to the politics of Trump or Le Pen is a course in Western Civ.”

Because of that paper’s pay wall, I’m going to push the envelope a mite on Fair Use here so that you get the point fully, and I hope the Journal will forgive me.

The piece begins anecdotally, telling about how the left’s culture warriors chanted Western Civ right out of the curriculum at Stanford in the ’80s, and how a vote to bring it back (a student vote, because grownups no longer dare to make such decisions) failed, 6 to 1.

Then, he sets out the problem:

The thought comes to mind following Sergei Lavrov’s Orwellian speech last week at the Munich Security Conference, in which the Russian foreign minister called for a “post-West world order.”…

Bret Stephens

Bret Stephens

Mr. Lavrov understands something that ought to be increasingly clear to American and European audiences: The West—as a geopolitical bloc, a cultural expression, a moral ideal—is in deep trouble. However weak Russia may be economically, and however cynical its people might be about their regime, Russians continue to drink from a deep well of civilizational self-belief. The same can be said about the Chinese, and perhaps even of the Islamic world too, troubled as it is.

The West? Not so much.

The United States has elected as president a man who has repeatedly voiced his disdain for NATO, the World Trade Organization and other institutions of the Western-led world order. He publicly calls the press “an enemy of the American people” and conjures conspiracy theories about voter fraud whose only purpose is to lend credence to his claim that the system is rigged. He is our first post-rational president, whose approach to questions of fact recalls the deconstructionism of the late Jacques Derrida: There are no truths; reality is negotiable….

He goes on about the crisis of faith in Western ways in Europe, and notes how the non-aligned — who once were so eager to join the Western club — are drifting toward other power centers, such as Russia and China.

In other words, moving toward cultures that still believe in themselves, or at least in their own myths.

Then comes the best part:

There was a time when the West knew what it was about. It did so because it thought about itself—often in freshman Western Civ classes. It understood that its moral foundations had been laid in Jerusalem; its philosophical ones in Athens; its legal ones in Rome. It treated with reverence concepts of reason and revelation, freedom and responsibility, whose contradictions it learned to harmonize and harness over time. It believed in the excellence of its music and literature, and in the superiority of its political ideals. It was not ashamed of its prosperity. If it was arrogant and sinful, as all civilizations are, it also had a tradition of remorse and doubt to temper its edges and broaden its horizons. It cultivated the virtue of skepticism while avoiding the temptation of cynicism.

And it believed all of this was worth defending — in classrooms and newspapers and statehouses and battlefields….

Donald Trump was elected by people who for whatever reason just don’t seem to get the fundamental assumptions of the West — they don’t know the history; they don’t embrace the ideals. It’s hard to talk to them about what’s wrong, because they don’t see it. Maybe it’s too late for them, but it’s time we started overtly teaching our children what’s valuable about the West.

But first, of course, we need to decide whether we still believe in it ourselves…

Suddenly, Nikki Haley is America’s foreign policy grownup

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This was in The Washington Post over the weekend:

After President Trump said that deporting undocumented immigrants was “a military operation,” Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, speaking in Mexico, clarified that there would be “no use of military force in immigration operations.”

After Trump, standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, upended decades of U.S. policy by saying he was open to a one-state solution to the conflict in the Middle East, U.N. envoy Nikki Haley asserted that the United States “absolutely” supports a two-state solution.

And after Trump alarmed European allies by declaring NATO obsolete, Vice President Pence flew to Munich and Brussels, where he reassured a worried continent that the president remains “fully devoted to our transatlantic union.”

One of the unofficial duties of Trump’s Cabinet, it seems, is cleaning up the statements of the man they serve. Five weeks into Trump’s tenure in office, his deputies have found themselves softening, explaining and sometimes outright contradicting the president….

Or, as Jennifer Rubin wrote last week, “Pay no mind to Trump. He’s just the president.”

Perhaps the only hope we have to cling to in this crisis is the fact that most of the world understands that the president of the United States is, for the first time in history, a complete nincompoop (see how I didn’t call him an “idiot” just then), so there’s the possibility of grownups cleaning up his messes before they blow up completely. No guarantee it will work, of course, but there’s the possibility.

Here’s what we’ve come to: Our own Nikki Haley, who had basically zero qualifications for the job of ambassador to the U.N., is now the grownup who has to step in and set things right when the president of the United States screws up on the global stage.

Scary, isn’t it?

I don’t want to take anything away from Nikki by saying that. It’s not her fault she was unqualified for the position. To my knowledge, she never sought the position, and can be forgiven for not having prepared herself for it before it fell in her lap. I applaud how well she’s doing scrambling to catch up. She’s apparently listening to the right people, and doing her best to learn, and I honor her for it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the guy who picked her for the job would do the same thing? But he won’t. He’s destroyed our hopes of his ever doing that, over and over again.

So everyone around him — or the competent ones, anyway, who are too few — will have to keep cleaning up after him, as well as they can for as long as they can. Which is cold comfort…

I love this picture from the Canadian border

From The Washington Post: Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police help a family from Somalia on Feb. 17, 2017 along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Quebec. (The Canadian Press/AP)

From The Washington Post: Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police help a family from Somalia on Feb. 17, 2017 along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Quebec. (The Canadian Press/AP)

I hope The Canadian Press (or the AP, which transmitted it) doesn’t mind my showing this photo, but my post would make little sense without it. It goes with this story this morning in The Washington Post:

OTTAWA — As desperate asylum seekers continue to flee the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown by crossing into Canada, concern is growing here over whether the country will be able to cope if the number of migrants keeps growing.

Stories of migrants hauling children and suitcases across frozen fields and snow-covered ditches into Canada have become headline news. The asylum seekers, who are fleeing President Trump’s travel and refugee bans as well as stepped-up arrests of undocumented immigrants, have received warm welcomes. But opposition politicians are criticizing the government of Justin Trudeau for being too harsh or too lax in its approach….

I just love that expression on the Mountie’s face as he lifts that child up from the snow. You go, Dudley Do-Right!

It’s particularly meaningful to me because our church sponsored a Somali Bantu family — a widowed mother and several children — in Columbia a few years back, and my wife played a leadership role in that, sometimes spending practically as much time with them, helping them negotiate American life, as she did at home. Or so it seemed to me, but I’m not complaining. She found the mother a job and helped her get settled in it, tutored one of the kids (using our old copies of The Wall Street Journal to help with his English skills), and all sorts of stuff like that. (My own involvement hardly extended beyond storing donated furniture in our garage before they arrived.)

Eventually, our Bantu family moved to Buffalo, where a lot of others like them had ended up. Also right on the Canadian border, you’ll note — although the picture taken above was far from there.

Of course, as I say, I love the picture. Despite the fact that it saddens me greatly that any of these folks would feel so unwelcome in this country that they would set out on such hazardous (and to them especially, horrendously cold) terrain in search of solace and safety…