Category Archives: The World

Apple stiffs America, kowtows to the Chinese

apple_logo_png_06

Remember how Apple told the U.S. government to take a hike when it made a perfectly legitimate request for help in a terrorism investigation?

By contrast, here’s how the company reacts when China asks it to help oppress the Chinese people:

BEIJING — Apple has removed the New York Times app from its digital store in China, acting on what it says were orders from the Chinese government.

The New York Times, which offers content in both English and Chinese, is one of a growing number of foreign news organizations whose content is blocked in China, although some people here use special software to bypass the censorship system.

The Times said the app was removed from Apple stores on Dec. 23, apparently under regulations issued in June preventing mobile apps from engaging in activities that endanger national security or disrupt social order.

That occurred as New York Times reporter David Barboza was in the final stages of reporting a story about billions of dollars in hidden perks and subsidies the Chinese government provides to the world’s largest iPhone factory, run by Apple’s partner Foxconn. That story went online on Dec. 29….

Will Graham and McCain stand alone against Trump on intel?

Donald Trump’s insistence on doubting intel indicating that the Russians tried to tip the election in his favor is a remarkable instance of his flaws coming together over one issue.

Combine his lack of faith in people who obviously know more than he does (a large set) with his inferiority complex (in this case, his touchiness over the suggestion that anything other than his own wonderfulness won the election for him), and you have a guy willing to sacrifice the nation’s intelligence-gathering apparatus for the sake of his own fragile ego. This, of course, takes petty self-absorption to a level previously unseen in U.S. history.

Which is, you know, a pretty good illustration of why it was utterly insane for anyone to consider for a moment voting for him to be president of the United States. But that’s water under the bridge, right? This is the irrational world in which we now live.

I was a bit encouraged when I saw this headline leading The Washington Post this morning: “Trump’s criticism of intelligence on Russia is dividing Hill GOP.” An excerpt:

McCain will hold a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday on “foreign cyber threats” that is expected to center on Russia. Intelligence officials — including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Marcel J. Lettre II and U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers — will testify, and some Republicans are hoping they will present evidence that Russia meddled in the elections.

“The point of this hearing is to have the intelligence community reinforce, from their point of view, that the Russians did this,” Graham said. “You seem to have two choices now — some guy living in an embassy, on the run from the law for rape, who has a history of undermining American democracy and releasing classified information to put our troops at risk, or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us. I’m going with them.”

Graham was referring to Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder accused of helping Russia leak emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee….

Unfortunately, it’s not much of a split, going by this story. So far, it looks a bit like another case of John McCain and our own Lindsey Graham standing on the side of reason and national security, and too many others cowering, unwilling to tell the incoming emperor the obvious: that he has no clothes, and that it’s not a good look for him.

Sure, McConnell has spoken up in the past, and Marco Rubio might get on board with McCain and Graham. And Paul Ryan, bless him, had the presence of mind to call that Assange creep a “sycophant for Russia.”

But only time will tell whether the GOP Congress will live up to its obligation to check and balance the absurdities of our president-elect…

On this, Trump may be right and Obama may be wrong

Image from NBC file footage of Netanyahu speaking at the U.N.

Image from NBC file footage of Netanyahu speaking at the U.N.

Like a stopped clock, Donald Trump will sometimes be right — and this might be one of those times.

Today, the outgoing Obama administration got this shot across its bow:

An Israeli official on Friday accused President Barack Obama of colluding with the Palestinians in a “shameful move against Israel at the U.N.” after learning the White House did not intend to veto a Security Council resolution condemning settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem the day before.

“President Obama and Secretary Kerry are behind this shameful move against Israel at the U.N.,” the official said. “The U.S administration secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel’s back which would be a tail wind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory,” he said calling it “an abandonment of Israel which breaks decades of US policy of protecting Israel at the UN.”

Earlier he said Israel’s prime minister turned to President-elect Donald Trump to help head off the critical U.N. resolution….

And Trump obliged:

JERUSALEM — President­-elect Donald J. Trump thrust himself into one of the world’s most polarizing debates on Thursday by pressuring President Obama to veto a United Nations resolution critical of Israel, the newly elected leader’s most direct intervention in foreign policy during his transition to power. Mr. Trump spoke out after Israeli officials contacted his team for help in blocking the draft resolution condemning settlement construction even as they lobbied its sponsor, Egypt. Within a couple of hours, Egypt withdrew the resolution, at least temporarily, and its president, Abdel Fattah el­Sisi, called Mr. Trump to discuss how “to establish true peace in the Middle East,” according to an aide to the president-­elect….

Of course, if you don’t like Trump’s current position, wait five minutes. But for now, I think he’s calling for the right response.

Look, folks: I think to a great extent those settlements are problematic, a provocation. But this is no way for Israel’s adversaries to try to cram through a resolution on the subject — two days before Christmas and in the midst of a uniquely unsettling presidential transition in this country. Note that I’m talking here about the United States. Why? Because I think a move like this is meant to take advantage of this country as much as it is meant to strike out at Israel.

First the Russians try, and one might even say succeed (if one isn’t too discriminating in discerning causes and effects), in throwing this country into disarray. Now this.

Oh, and while I’m talking foreign interference, let me say that I don’t particularly appreciate our friend Israel reaching out to Trump this way. But President Obama could certainly have avoided that desperation move by assuring Israel that he had its back.

I hope he did, in fact. I certainly hope the Israeli allegation is wrong, and that President Obama intended to veto this resolution at this time.

You know what would be nice? A clear statement from the administration to that effect. That would do much to pour oil on the waters. If anyone’s seen anything like that, let me know. I’ve been hunting for something, ANYTHING from the White House on this, and failing to find it. I’ll keep looking. (I’ve found speculation that maybe Samantha Power is quietly working to solve the problem, and perhaps that’s right. If so, ignore everything I’ve said.)

By the way, before I sign off, here’s what Lindsey Graham has to say about the situation. His release, in fact, is what alerted me to the fact that this matter, which I thought was averted yesterday, may not be over:

Statement by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham on Resolution Involving Israeli Settlements:

“This provocative action by the United Nations is an outrage and must be dealt with sternly and forcefully.

“As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I oversee the United States assistance to the United Nations.  The United States is currently responsible for approximately 22 percent of the United Nations total budget.

“If the United Nations moves forward with the ill-conceived resolution, I will work to form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce United States assistance to the United Nations.

“In addition, any nation which backs this resolution and receives assistance from the United States will put that assistance in jeopardy.

“There is a reason the United States has long opposed these type efforts directed at Israel — the only way to achieve a lasting peace by the parties negotiating directly and not using the United Nations as a blunt instrument against Israel.  This was President Obama’s position in 2011 and it should be his position today.”

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Great images of Lynn’s Mama back during the war

Says Lynn: "Here is my mother (2nd from right) dressed in a way that would have suited General Patton."

Says Lynn: “Here is my mother (2nd from right) dressed in a way that would have suited General Patton.”

This is certainly the most awesome thing you’ll see on this blog this week.

Back on Friday when I took note of the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge, mentioning my late father-in-law’s experience then and there (being deployed on the front line at the very center of the overwhelming German assault, he would be captured and spend the rest of the war in a POW camp), Lynn mentioned her mother’s experience thusly:

My mother was a nurse with the 95th General Hospital during the Battle of the Bulge, and was a member of Veterans of the B of the B until her death. She had some very sad stories, among them soldiers with terrible injuries from frostbite, along with the other wounds of war. She managed to be personally chewed out by Patton twice. Once was for not wearing a helmet, apparently a common event. The other was for being among the unit officers after they managed to get lost behind German lines for three days. I can’t imagine that anyone trusted my mother with a map. Very bright woman, hopeless with a map.

We were all glad that she shared that, and I asked her for pictures. Today, she obliged. Here’s her narration, slightly edited:

Lt. Tommie Dukes

Lt. Tommie Dukes

Just caught up with the blog and saw your request for photos. I have a few photos of my mother during the war… One [right] is a regular portrait photo that I’m pretty sure was made soon after she became an Army nurse. [Below] is one of my personal favorites — Mama and two of her friends on the Champs-Élysées the day of the parade for the liberation of Paris. A French shopkeeper came out and suggested that she might want to try on some frivolous things after all her time in uniform, and this is the result. As you can see, it is in uniform, plus. She had leave, but wasn’t actually supposed to be in Paris. She and her two friends couldn’t stand not being in the city for the big event and hitched a ride from the hospital. They tried to be inconspicuous, but a French general saw them and pushed them into the parade, so they ended up marching down the Champs-Élysées in front of the tanks.

What great stories, and even greater pictures!

Y’all know how I feel I was born in the wrong time, having missed the titanic events that shaped the world I grew up in. So now I’m jealous of Lynn’s Mom, who was There When It All Happened. (And yes, ere my antiwar friends tell me that these fun pictures are not what the war was about, I know that. I just wish I’d had the chance to Do My Bit when it truly mattered — I feel like a freeloader not having done so.)

Envious as I am, I wish I could have met her and thanked her for her service…

lt-tommie-dukes-2

 

If you were to spoof a WSJ headline, it would look like this

There are two things I love, and they are opposites — those that delight by running counter to expectations and thereby undermining oversimple assumptions, and those that run SO true to stereotype that they reassure the harried mind that there is order in the world and it can be understood.

So I particularly enjoyed this, from The Wall Street Journal this morning:

If you were trying to lampoon the WSJ‘s editorial proclivities, you couldn’t have come up with a better headline. You take the Journal‘s disdain for anything that smack of socialism, and you add a touch of Grinch: Not only do those socialists dishonor the holy marketplace, but they want to take the kids’ toys, too!

It’s so perfect, it’s satire.

But here’s what really makes it special — the whipped cream and cherry on top: The Journal is right! The words accurately describe something that’s happening! None of it’s made up. The Venezuelan government is actually confiscating (some) toys before they can get to the kids.

So I enjoyed that — while at the same time feeling bad for the kids, and for their parents, trying to cope with 470 percent inflation. Which is way worse than not being able to find a certain brand of toy, which, let’s face it, is to some extent more of a First World Problem.

I could have done without the standard libertarian reference to “other people’s money” at the end, but that will probably delight Doug, so… something for everybody. Merry Christmas, Doug!

Graham wants Tillerson to answer questions on Russia

Tillerson and Putin

Tillerson and Putin

Lindsey Graham has had politely positive things to say about most of Trump’s Cabinet picks so far. But he wants some answers from Rex Tillerson about his buddy-buddy relationship with Putin:

Graham on Tillerson Nomination to Serve as Secretary of State

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on Rex Tillerson, being nominated to serve as Secretary of State.

“Mr. Tillerson is a talented businessman with a great deal of international business experience.

“I look forward to meeting Mr. Tillerson and discussing his world view – especially his views of the US-Russian relationship. Based upon his extensive business dealings with the Putin government and his previous opposition of efforts to impose sanctions on the Russian government, there are many questions which must be answered.  I expect the US-Russian relationship to be front and center in his confirmation process.”

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Is this where the GOP Congress stands up to Trump?

Will their checks and balances be enough?

Will their checks and balances be enough?

Remember all those assurances that, thanks to our system of checks and balances, Trump wouldn’t be able to harm the country all that much?

Well, as much confidence as I place in Hamilton, Madison et al., I’ve thought that was too phlegmatic by half — a modern president can do a great deal of harm, even unto the destruction of the planet, before Congress can get its thumb out of its, um, ear.

And, over the weekend, some observers — including The Washington Post‘s duty conservative, Jennifer Rubin — were beginning to wonder whether the GOP Congress would ever develop the guts or inclination even to try to contain him.

As it happens, there were encouraging signs yesterday and this morning.

First, my two fave senators, Graham and McCain, stood up to both Trump and Putin:

Two Senate Republicans joined demands for a bipartisan probe into Russia’s suspected election interference allegedly designed to bolster Donald Trump as questions continue to mount about the president-elect’s expected decision to nominate a secretary of state candidate with close ties to Russia.

Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) — the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee — joined calls by incoming Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Armed Services ranking Democrat Jack Reed (R.I.) for a thorough, bipartisan investigation of Russian influence in the U.S. elections. Their statement came two days after The Washington Post reported the CIA’s private conclusion that Russia’s activities were intended to tip the scales to help Trump.

“Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American,” the four senators said in a statement on Sunday morning. “Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks.”…

Of course, the headline on that story noted that the GOP leadership remained “mum” on that point.

I’m happy to note that Sen. McConnell has now been heard from:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday strongly condemned any foreign interference with U.S. elections and announced that the Senate intelligence panel will investigate Russia’s suspected election interference.

“The Russian are not our friends,” McConnell told reporters at a scheduled year-end news conference….

This is encouraging. It doesn’t make me think things are hunky-dory, but it’s encouraging…

Apparently, intelligence would cramp Trump’s style

If only George Smiley were available to brief him. And if only he'd listen...

If only George Smiley were available to brief him. And if only he’d listen…

Just to start off the week, which is worse?

  1. Trump deciding he doesn’t need the daily intelligence briefing — even though, you know, there’s never been a president-elect in our history more painfully in need of one. I have to admit I cringed right after the election when it was reported he would start getting these — the very idea of the least discreet man in America being briefed on the nation’s secrets — but Trump not getting such briefings is actually much more disturbing. I mean, if he gets enough of them, maybe, just maybe, he’d start to get a clue. And perhaps that’s why he doesn’t want to get them. Having a clue would cramp his style.
  2. Trump waving off the assessment by intelligence professionals that the Russians tried to hack our election to benefit him.

My immediate reaction, of course, is that absurdity No. 2 is the worse one, because what could be more dangerous than a president who says “No, they didn’t” to evidence that Russia was trying to do such a thing to this country, striking at the very core of our democracy? And of course, we know why he dismisses it: It suggests he is less awesome than he thinks he is, and that he needed help to win. Which makes his stubborn refusal to accept facts even more alarming — because what has concerned us most about Trump, if not his penchant for placing the stroking of his own fragile, unstable ego ahead of every other consideration?cia

If only someone could tell him the bad news in a good way — pointing out that no one is saying the Russians won the election for him (at least I haven’t heard that yet); we’re just saying that Putin may have committed an extraordinarily hostile act against this country, just by trying. Of course, even then, we’d run up against a key goal of the incoming Trump administration, which is to favor Russia — something of which we got another reminder via the nomination of the ExxonMobil guy for secretary of state. And once again, Trump is utterly uninterested in, and hostile to, any information that might contradict what he wants to believe. (He’s like his supporters in that regard, the ones who choose their own alternative-reality “news” sources.)

(A digression: On the radio this morning, someone was wondering why, if you want to cozy up to one superpower wannabe and tick off another, why choose moribund Russia to be your pal instead of the dynamic, growing China? Good question.)

But the more I think about it, the more I think absurdity No. 1 may be the bigger problem.

If I were president, or president-elect, I would consider the intelligence briefing the most important part of my day, most days. My temptation would be to let it take up more of my day, rather than less. On the days that the briefing was boring — just same-old, same-old — I would count my blessings. The worst briefings would tend to be the extremely interesting ones.

Because I have a better grasp of international affairs than Trump does (here we go — comments are on the way telling me he’s smarter than I am because he has more money — but this is one thing where I’m pretty confident, because a guy doesn’t need to know much about foreign policy to know more than Trump), I know how much I don’t know, and I would want to do everything I could to know more.

And as I said, our country has never had an incoming leader who needed these briefings more than this guy. If he had these steady, daily tutorials, he may even begin to develop something we might loosely term perspective.

But he doesn’t want that. He thinks he knows everything, when he actually knows less than Jon Snow — if he knew nothing, he’d be better off than he is “knowing” all the things he “knows” that aren’t true.

Bottom line — while within days I fear we’ll hear something worse and this will be toppled from it’s place of honor, these developments over the weekend I think are the most disturbing signs we’ve seen since the election of just how bad this is going to be…

Tony thinks we’ll be OK. Let’s hope he’s right, as usual

Tony has always been one to feel our pain.

Our pal Tony has always been one to feel our pain.

Bryan calls my attention to the fact that while my main man Tony Blair is very concerned about the state of liberal democracy in Europe, he thinks his American friends will weather the Trump crisis:

WASHINGTON — Former British prime minister Tony Blair warns that political upheaval from Great Britain’s Brexit vote in June to the collapse of the Italian government on Sunday signals the most dangerous time for Western democracies in decades….

It has been a year of unexpected victories by populist and nationalistic forces that are challenging the establishment: passage of the referendum pulling Britain from the European Union, the election of Donald Trump as president in the United States, defeat of a measure in Italy that prompted the prime minister to announce his resignation.

And in the Austrian election Sunday, the candidate representing the party founded by former Nazis lost — but after commanding 46% of the vote….

“I’m less worried about America than I am about Europe; I’ll be very frank with you,” he said. “America is such a strong country and you’ve got so many checks-and-balances and you’ve got such resilience in your economy and so on; you guys will do fine, I’m sure. In Europe, we have systems that are at a point of fragility that troubles me.”…

Tony’s almost always right. Here’s hoping he is this time. Although for once, I doubt him. Rome thought it was big enough and strong enough and had checks and balances, too…

Is this really where the light of liberal democracy grows dim?

In a comment earlier I wrote about how concerned I am about the course of my country — and of the world. More so than I’ve ever been in my more than six decades on this planet.

It’s not just Trump — he’s just a glaring, ugly sign of it. Take a step back, and reflect: Who came in second in the GOP primaries? The only guy who gave Trump any kind of a run for his money as the worst candidate ever — Ted Cruz. All the better-suited candidates were stuck in single digits. And the Democrats have nothing to brag about — they put forward the second-most (second to Trump) despised candidate in the history of such things being measured. And she had trouble putting away a cranky old socialist to get that far.

How can I blame Trump when the real problem is that millions of people voted for him? I actually almost feel sorry for this bizarre figure, because he truly had zero reason to expect that he’d actually end up in this position.

I mean seriously: If you don’t even go deeper than his hair, you can tell at a glance that the country’s really, really in trouble. This is what will lead us?krauthammer

And the rest of the world, too. As Charles Krauthammer wrote today, “After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is over.” The promise of 1991, with the Soviet Union finally collapsing and the U.S. leading a broad coalition against Saddam in Kuwait — the New World Order in which Civilization, led by the City on a Hill, would enforce its values against aggressors — is behind us.

The United States is pulling back, and the bad guys just can’t wait to flow into the vacuum. In fact, they haven’t been waiting — in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine or the South China Sea. Or even in our own backyard.

He sums it up this way, blaming BOTH Obama and Trump:

Donald Trump wants to continue the pullback, though for entirely different reasons. Obama ordered retreat because he’s always felt the U.S. was not good enough for the world, too flawed to have earned the moral right to be the world hegemon. Trump would follow suit, disdaining allies and avoiding conflict, because the world is not good enough for us — undeserving, ungrateful, parasitic foreigners living safely under our protection and off our sacrifices. Time to look after our own American interests.

I think he’s trying a little too hard at false equivalence there, but at the same time, while Obama’s a smart guy who knows how to say the right things (unlike, you know, the other guy), there has been a noticeable tinge of “Oh, this country isn’t all that special” in his stance toward the world. A tinge that some of you agree with, and with which I couldn’t disagree more. But if you’re right, if the United States isn’t all that special — if it can’t be relied upon as the chief champion of liberal democracy — then the world doesn’t stand much of a chance. Because there’s always somebody wanting to be the hegemon, and the leading candidates running to take our place are pretty much a nightmare.

ISIS is a wannabe and never-was on that score. Russia wants to be a contender again, instead of bum, Charlie. But my money has long been on the oppressive authoritarians of the world’s largest country, China.

One of the first editorials I wrote for The State — maybe the first — when I joined the editorial board in 1994 was about the disturbing signs I saw of the Chinese buying friends and influencing people right here in our hemisphere, the long-forgotten Monroe Doctrine notwithstanding. I was worried that nobody else in this country seemed to see it, thanks to the fact that few of my fellow Americans ever took a moment to think about what happens to the south of us. (Side note: We wrote a lot about international affairs when I joined the editorial board; when I became editor, we would focus far more closely on South Carolina, which needed the scrutiny.)

Well, more people have noticed it since then. But not enough people. And not enough of the ones who have noticed care. President Obama, to his credit, started his “pivot” to focus on the Pacific Rim. That was the smart thing to do for this country’s long-term interests, and those of liberal democracy in general. China needs to be countered, with both soft power and, when necessary, hard.

Probably the most chilling paragraph in Krauthammer’s column is this one:

As for China, the other great challenger to the post-Cold War order, the administration’s “pivot” has turned into an abject failure. The Philippines openly defected to the Chinese side. Malaysia then followed. And the rest of our Asian allies are beginning to hedge their bets. When the president of China addressed the Pacific Rim countries in Peru last month, he suggested that China was prepared to pick up the pieces of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now abandoned by both political parties in the United States….

TPP was smart policy, encouraging our allies in the region to join with us in confidence, tying themselves more closely with U.S. interests in the face of the Chinese challenge. And this year, neither party was willing to stand up for it — even though one of the nominees (the one who lost, of course) knew better. If she’d been elected, at least we’d have had the chance of her breaking that bad campaign promise.

We painstakingly fashioned that strategic instrument, then dropped it like a hot potato when the populists began howling. And China is preparing to pick it up. And maybe you don’t, but I feel the Earth’s center of gravity shifting in the wrong direction.

Oh, but hey, Carrier’s not moving a plant to Mexico — at least, not completely. So everything’s OK, right? We’ve entered the era of short-term, inwardly focused international goals. Or something…

A post in which you can talk about Gen. Mattis

gen_james_n_mattis

Bryan Caskey complains via email, “We gonna talk foreign policy and military stuff on your blog about Mattis, or what?”

Alright, alright, already! Here’s a post about that. And here’s a story about Mattis.

Frankly, I don’t have a strong opinion on this nomination, but here are some thoughts:

  • With a complete ignoramus as commander in chief, it’s more important than ever that there be competent Cabinet members, who can keep the ship of state on some kind of rational course, at least when the White House leaves them alone to do so. This is particularly true on the national security team. And Trump’s decision to make Gen. Michael “Lock Her Up!” Flynn his national security adviser already has us in the hole on that score.
  • Mattis would seem to fit that bill. He’s a guy whose resume demonstrates that he would fully understand the missions of the Defense Department and act accordingly.
  • Then there’s the problem that Congress would have to grant an exemption that it has not granted until it did so for George C. Marshall. The law they’d have to waive arises from concerns about maintaining civilian control of the military. As y’all know, I’m not one of these post-Vietnam liberals who hyperventilate at the sight of a military uniform, fearing a real-life “Seven Days in May.” The Constitution sets the president as commander in chief, and that would seem sufficient. Well, it would under normal circumstances. Having a SecDef who is a recent general and is able to think rings around the president on military matters and foreign affairs could be a cause of concern on the fussy point of civilian control — but I personally would sleep better if I knew Mattis was calling the shots rather than the president-elect.
  • Mattis is far less trusting of Iran than President Obama. I think that is probably a healthy thing, but as Bryan would say, and this post is after all for Bryan, your mileage may vary.
  • I think it’s a very good thing that he has differed in the past from Trump on the idea of our allies getting a “free ride” on the back of U.S. power. He argued with a similar comment from President Obama once.
  • My guys John McCain and Lindsey Graham are on board, which makes me like him better. Graham finds him “an outstanding choice,” and McCain says “He is without a doubt of one of finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops.”

Your thoughts?

The death of Fidel Castro (and Ron Glass, too!)

fidel-castro-1959

By now, you’ve heard that Fidel Castro outlasted 10 U.S. presidents. I’ve read that several times. But I make it 11. Check my math:

  1. Eisenhower
  2. Kennedy
  3. Johnson
  4. Nixon
  5. Ford
  6. Carter
  7. Reagan
  8. Bush 41
  9. Clinton
  10. Bush 43
  11. Obama

Oh, I get it. They’re not counting Obama, since Fidel didn’t quite outlast him. Duh.

Whatever. Guy was in office a long time, longer than a lot of you have been alive.

And what’s he got to show for it? Almost six decades of oppression, and some beautifully preserved antique cars. I read over the weekend that since the thaw began, a huge part of the Cuban economy is American tourism and the officially tolerated sex trade, which takes us back to where he came in.

He’s been there so long, that it’s nice to do a recap to refresh your memory. Here’s one. Here’s another.

The big question now is, will things get better between the U.S. and Cuba now, or worse? I’m not overly optimistic, with you-know-who about to take over in Washington.

ron-glassAnd now, let’s pause a moment to remember Ron Glass, whom we all remember (if we’re old enough) from “Barney Miller,” but I recall more fondly as Shepherd Book from “Firefly.” As you may recall if you’re a Browncoat, one of the great unsolved mysteries from the short-lived series was just what sort of shady past the Shepherd had.

Now we’ll never know, even if there’s a revival of the series, which there should be.

Requiescat in pace, Ron… (Do they have Latin in the future ‘verse, or is it just English and Chinese?)

shepherd-book

Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations

haley-waving

Late on election night, the folks on PBS (Judy Woodruff, David Brooks, Mark Shields, and others), utterly flabbergasted and in desperate search for something to say, somehow got on the subject of “Whither the Republican Party?” Or something like that. I forget exactly how they got on the topic, but they got to talking about who might be waiting in the wings in the party — which is odd; it seems more like they’d have been asking that about the Democrats.

And maybe they did. My memory is cloudy because I was in shock, too. But here’s my point: Somehow the name that came up — and I think it was the first name, perhaps the only one — was that of Nikki Haley.

Which was… surprising. But national media have long thought a lot of her. As a young, presentable, female, nonwhite Republican, she plays well nationally, certainly in the Identity Politics sense. And she is very personable. She makes a great first, second and third impression. And her time in office has brought her greater poise, while she has moved somewhat away from the Tea Party fringe that elected her. And she truly became the leader of this state when she stepped out on the flag last year.

So now, after she had the good sense to distance herself from him during the primaries, she is Donald Trump’s choice to be U.N. ambassador. And it’s playing as a good decision in national coverage.

First let me say, I’m far happier with her as U.N. ambassador than I am with Donald Trump as president — no question. But let’s just say that’s not a high bar.

And… we can discuss this more later… I feel pretty good about Henry McMaster as governor. He was the best candidate for that office in the GOP primary in 2010, and the only thing I can think of to say against him is that he backed Trump in the primary.

But let’s discuss that later. Back to Nikki Haley…

I just have to say this, as a guy who cares deeply about this country’s dealings with the rest of the world: What qualifications does she have for the position? Aside from being as I said personable, which can be helpful in diplomacy, I cannot think of any at all.

Today, The Washington Post is saying:

Haley, a former Trump rival, is generally considered a mainstream Republican, with views on military and national security matters that fall within the GOP’s hawkish mainstream. She has little foreign policy experience.

First, let’s correct the second sentence — to my knowledge, she does not have ANY foreign policy experience. (And no, a few industrial recruitment trips selling South Carolina abroad do not count as foreign policy experience of the U.N. Security Council sort.)

As for the first experience — where are they getting that? Yeah, she has gravitated from a Tea Party candidate who couldn’t wait to make the Establishment miserable to a more neutral position (where I frankly think she is more comfortable). And bless her, she went with Rubio on the primary. But what “views on military and national security matters” are they referring to? Aside from being proud of her husband’s service in the National Guard, I cannot think of any that she has expressed. Not that she needed to; she’s never had a job that called upon her to do so.

(And is the GOP mainstream still hawkish? Are Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who well represent where the party has mostly been since 1945, still the gravitational center? We can discuss that another time, too.)

As U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley is a tabula rasa, as she was when she first ran for the House. The best thing that can be said is that she has no bad foreign policy habits to unlearn. If everyone in the GOP who knows anything about geopolitics had not run screaming from Donald Trump and all who sail in him, I suppose we could hope for her to be strenuously tutored — but who’s going to do it now? Trump?

And is U.N. ambassador actually the place where you go to get your feet wet in international relations? No. It does not come with training wheels, to the best of my knowledge. Of course, I’m a child of the Cold War, and grew up on such cultural references as “Failsafe” (and now, with Trump as president-elect, feel like I’m living in “Dr. Strangelove”). I see the U.N. Security Council as a deadly serious, high-stakes kind of thing, to say the least. Growing up with those references, I took what comfort I could from the notion that the people representing us around those conference tables in a crisis knew a lot more about this stuff than I did. And I wonder — back when Trump was asked about the nuclear triad and found wanting, how would our governor have answered the same question?

As y’all know, I’ve had frequent occasions to praise Gov. Haley in the last year or so; I’ve really felt that she was growing in the job, and I will always praise her to the skies for her leadership on getting the Confederate flag down. That was amazing, and wonderful, and stunning. It made her a heroine in my eyes.

But does any of that, or her calm, visible leadership during weather crises — for which I also honor her — qualify her for this?

Please tell me it does, and explain why, because I really want to feel better about this…

All the bad guys in the world are THRILLED at prospect of a diminished United States under Trump

On a previous post, our own Phillip Bush said he’s concerned about the Trump administration being “Bush/Cheney redux.”

We’re not going to be so lucky. There’s little chance of having an administration that is anything like Bush’s — or Obama’s, or Clinton’s, or Reagan’s, or Carter’s, or Nixon’s, or Johnson’s, or Kennedy’s, or Eisenhower’s, or Truman’s.

Yeah, I get why Phillip said that — John Bolton is a hard case, and some call him a “neocon,” although he really doesn’t fit the description. Neocons are liberals who deserted the left after Vietnam. Bolton has always been a conservative — he backed Goldwater in 1964.

But forget Bolton — in fact, I am little interested in who will hold this or that position. None of these appointments are as bad, or as consequential, as what has already happened — the election of Donald Trump, a man who just by being president will diminish the influence of the United States in the world.

You’ve probably read that most world leaders — particularly our friends — are deeply dismayed by what happened last week, and very worried about what happens next. They’re perhaps as upset as I am, and for some of the same reasons — my greatest worry about a Trump victory was its effect on international relations. You probably also know that this is exactly what Russia and China wanted — a clueless goofball at the helm of the United States, leaving the vacuum that they are eager to fill.

But others were cheering last week, too. And still are. The Guardian bothered to chronicle some of the reactions from a rogue’s gallery of extremists — mostly right-wing, populist nationalists: Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National in France; Viktor Orbán, the hardline nationalist leader of Hungary; Frauke Petry, the lead of Germany’s rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland; Greece’s Golden Dawn, the party seen as Europe’s most virulent far-right force; Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of Austria’s rightwing populist Freedom party; the Dutch far-right leader and MP Geert Wilders; Beppe Grillo, the former comedian and the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in Italy; and of course Nigel Farage in Britain.

Fareed Zakaria looked beyond Europe, at some of the other bullies, tyrants and loonies who are happy that a man who neither understands or believes in America’s role in the postwar order will be in charge:

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Duterte

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad called Trump a “natural ally.” Rodrigo Duterte, the authoritarian leader of the Philippines, said of him, “We both like to swear . . . we’re the same.” Duterte has been hostile to the United States because Washington has criticized the extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses that have marked his tenure. Robert Mugabe, who has clung to power in Zimbabwe for 36 years while destroying that nation’s economy and liberties, has been similarly hopeful. A full-page editorial in a state-run paper there hailed the election of “the mighty Trump,” and the 92-year-old dictator has reportedly described Trump as a “friend.” No doubt Duterte and Mugabe hope that a Trump administration will go easy on them….

All over the world, separatists and nationalists, thugs and bullies of all stripes are ecstatic over Trump’s victory. Why? Because they see this as the end of the internationalist consensus that we’ve had since Truman, an unprecedented era of peace among major powers, largely led and guaranteed by an engaged United States.

Zakaria explains what’s at stake, in a simple, Geopolitics 101 manner:

But what is this globalism to which these people are so opposed? After 1945, after the Great Depression and two world wars, Western nations established an international system characterized by rules that honored national sovereignty, allowed for the flourishing of global commerce, and encouraged respect for human rights and liberties. This order resulted in the longest period of peace among the world’s major powers, marked by broad-based economic growth that created large middle classes in the West, the revival of Europe, growth in poor countries that lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and the spread of freedom across the globe.

The U.S. role in all this was pivotal. It set the agenda and provided security, which was about more than just deterring the Soviet Union and other aggressive powers. Radek Sikorski, Poland’s former foreign minister, said, “America’s influence and its commitments have been our security blanket. They have allowed Europe’s national rivalries to stay dormant. If you take away those guarantees, Europe could get very unstable.” And remember, the European Union is the world’s biggest market and the United States’ largest trading partner.

For the United States, “globalism” has produced enormous advantages. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States dominates the global economy, in technology, education, finance and clean energy. One in five U.S. jobsis a result of trade, and that number is growing fast. The United States maintains the world’s reserve currency, giving it a huge economic advantage.

The benefits of growth and globalization have not been shared equally, and the pace of change causes anxiety everywhere. But these are reasons to invest in people, upgrade their skills and better integrate communities. They are not reasons to destroy the most peaceful and productive international system ever devised in human history….

Of course, some of my friends — Doug and others — would like to see the United States be a smaller, humbler country confined to its own borders. But my libertarian and my post-Vietnam liberal friends will find themselves in some ugly company in cheering a diminished United States.

This is a very bad moment for liberal democracy around the world.

Graham and McCain won’t stand idly by while Trump cozies up to Putin

Who might step out of the crowd to stand up to Russia?

Who might step out of the crowd to stand up to Russia?

One of the seemingly less alarming headlines in the days right after the election was this one:

Trump, Putin agree in phone call to improve ‘unsatisfactory’ relations between their countries, Kremlin says

And what’s wrong with that? We might even applaud it, were Trump a normal POTUS-elect. Of course one chats with foreign leaders after winning the election, and of course one expresses hope for good international relations, even “resets.” Kumbaya, and all that.

But since we had ample evidence during the election that Trump is putty in Putin’s hands, and since Putin’s international goals include expanding his territory toward more Evil-Empirelike boundaries and propping up Bashar al-Assad in Syria, it’s quite natural to be creeped out by such an otherwise vanilla headline, because it tells you that it’s already begun.

Fortunately, people who know better than Trump are serving notice they won’t stand idly by while this bromance develops.

First there was this:

Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent his first shot across the bow of President-elect Donald Trump’s national security plans Tuesday, saying that any attempt to “reset” relations with Russia is unacceptable.

“With the U.S. presidential transition underway, Vladi­mir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States,” McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement released by his office.

“We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies and attempted to undermine America’s elections,” he said….

Then, McCain’s pal Lindsey Graham weighed in:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday said he wants Senate hearings to investigate whether Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the U.S. election, casting doubts on President-elect Donald Trump’s desire to improve relations with Russia.

“Assuming for a moment that we do believe that the Russian government was controlling outside organizations that hacked into our election, they should be punished,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill. “Putin should be punished.”…

They are hardly alone, as the House demonstrated yesterday:

On Tuesday, the House passed a bill imposing mandatory sanctions on anyone that financially, economically, or technologically supports Syria’s government in the civil war there – a category that chiefly includes Russia and Iran. Trump’s supporters didn’t stand in the way, and the measure was passed unanimously.

“Regardless of perspectives on Syria, there’s some unanimity of opinion in sending a message on this kind of conduct,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said prior to the vote….

Here’s the part where we find out whether we should have believed all those reassurances we heard from Republicans about how our checks and balances would rein in the inevitable foolishness of a Trump administration…

I suppose if you’re Iceland, you can afford to be frivolous

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Donald Trump complains about the United States taking responsibility for collective security in the world, and suggests our allies need to step up and look to their own defenses.

I almost thought, “Maybe he has a point” when I read this item this morning about Iceland:

The party that could be on the cusp of winning Iceland’s national elections on Saturday didn’t exist four years ago.

Its members are a collection of anarchists, hackers, libertarians and Web geeks. It sets policy through online polls — and thinks the government should do the same. It wants to make Iceland “a Switzerland of bits,” free of digital snooping. It has offered Edward Snowden a new place to call home.

And then there’s the name: In this land of Vikings, the Pirate Party may soon be king….

Victory for the Pirates may not mean much in isolation. This exceptionally scenic, lava-strewn rock just beyond the Arctic Circle has a population less than half that of Washington, D.C., with no army and an economy rooted in tourism and fishing.

But a Pirate Party win would offer a vivid illustration of how far Europeans are willing to go in their rejection of the political mainstream, adding to a string of insurgent triumphs emanating from both the far left and far right….

It occurs to me that maybe if Iceland had grownup, global responsibilities, maybe Icelanders wouldn’t be so utterly frivolous in their politics.

But then, do we really have room to talk, when Donald Trump has been given the Republican nomination for president of the United States? Obviously, many, many Americans don’t take the world, or the presidency, very seriously either….

Maybe it takes a Brit to get us to face ourselves

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Apparently, all Hogwarts is worried that He Who Must Not Be Named could occupy the most powerful position in the Muggle world.

A friend brought this Tweet out of Hogwarts to my attention:

Yeah, I know: She can’t even vote here. But the Brits are our best friends in the world, and sometimes you need your friends to tell you to take a good look at yourself.

As for those who think she should butt out, she has this good answer:

Folks, this isn’t just about this country; this is about the kind of world we will all live in in the future. And everybody has a stake in it. Even in Hogwarts, the possibility that He Who Must Not Be Named could be elected to the most powerful position in Muggle world is a cause of great concern. (And you’ll notice, she did not name him.)…

Meanwhile, Iranian-backed rebels fire on U.S. warship

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USS Mason, which was fired upon by Houthi rebels.

While the rest of us are busy listening to a tacky, self-absorbed huckster conjugating the verb “to f___,” there are real things going on out in the real world.

Leave it to our own Lindsey Graham to notice:

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Here’s a news story on the subject.

Here’s a good example of ‘doing smart stuff’ in the world

As we know, the Obama administration’s guiding principle in dealing with the world is “Don’t Do Stupid (Stuff).

Which, unfortunately, is the sort of mindset that can lead to not doing “stuff,” period, even when you really, really ought to.

So I’m pleased when I see us going out and taking action when it’s called for. Such as in this instance:

Late last year, as Islamic State fighters battled to expand their stronghold on Libya’s coast, ­militants came within 45 miles ­of the country’s sole remaining ­chemical-weapons site, unnerving Libyan and American officials who feared that potentially deadly chemicals could fall into extremist hands.libya_-_location_map_2013_-_lby_-_unocha-svg

In May, when the fighters struck a mile from the lightly guarded desert facility, killing two security officers at a checkpoint, they decided it was time to act.

The Islamic State’s encroachment on an installation outside the remote oasis town of Waddan, where 500 metric tons of ­chemical-weapon precursor materials were stored, set off a hurried chain of events culminating in a disarmament operation involving the United States, European countries and the United Nations.

The international effort, which concluded last week when a Danish ship unloaded the materials at a German port for destruction, is one of the rare successes that Western nations can claim in Libya since dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s ouster in 2011 pitched the North African country into lawlessness and civil war….

Well, I’m glad to hear that.

I hope even my more isolationist friends can agree that it’s a very good idea to do such stuff as this, and that we ought to in the future whenever something as obvious as this presents itself.

Right?

WashPost gets it exactly right: ‘Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy’

That’s one of the best, clearest headlines I’ve read on an editorial in a while. It states the case cleanly and well.

I’ll just quote the first graf:

DONALD J. TRUMP, until now a Republican problem, this week became a challenge the nation must confront and overcome. The real estate tycoon is uniquely unqualified to serve as president, in experience and temperament. He is mounting a campaign of snarl and sneer, not substance. To the extent he has views, they are wrong in their diagnosis of America’s problems and dangerous in their proposed solutions. Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew….

That is a wonderfully well-crafted bit of truth-telling, and every word of it is skilfully back up, in 13 more paragraphs that are just as good. You should go read the whole thing.

I continue to be astounded that some Democrats as well as Republicans are falling into the usual patterns of thinking this is a normal election, and that normal voting patterns should apply. Democrats speak in terms of Republicans ALL being as bad as Trump, and some perhaps worse. Republicans say he may be no gem, but he’s certainly no worse than Hillary Clinton, if not better.

They are all tragically, grotesquely wrong, and this editorial clearly states why.

The point of it is the same I’ve been making here about the unique horror that Trump represents.

Please read it, and take what it says to heart.