Category Archives: The World

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…

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Can we make the presidency great again? Please?

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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?

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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…

Nikki shows Trump how to address anti-Semitism

I call your attention to Jennifer Rubin’s column praising Nikki Haley for showing the correct way to address anti-Semitism, a lesson her boss would do well to learn.

Of course, you might say Nikki evidently had help from people who know more about the Mideast and global antipathy toward Israel than she does, to which I’ll say, I certainly hope so. And bless her for having the wisdom to listen to them. And when she spoke them, the words became hers.

Here’s the pertinent part of the column, which quotes freely from Ambassador Haley’s remarks:

Her remarks are worth watching or reading in full, but this was especially effective:

The Security Council is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hizballah’s illegal build-up of rockets in Lebanon. It was not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists. It was not about how we defeat ISIS. It was not about how we hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East. I am new around here, but I understand that’s how the Council has operated, month after month, for decades. …

Incredibly, the UN Department of Political Affairs has an entire division devoted to Palestinian affairs. Imagine that. There is no division devoted to illegal missile launches from North Korea. There is no division devoted to the world’s number one state-sponsor of terror, Iran. The prejudiced approach to Israeli-Palestinian issues does the peace process no favors. And it bears no relationship to the reality of the world around us.

She further observed, “The double standards are breathtaking. Just a few days ago, the United States sought unsuccessfully to have the Security Council condemn a terrorist attack to Israel, where the terrorist opened fire on people waiting for a bus and then stabbed others. … The statement was blocked. And that’s downright shameful.”

She added, “Israel exists in a region where others call for its complete destruction and in a world where anti-Semitism is on the rise. These are threats that we should discuss at the United Nations as we continue working toward a comprehensive agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” (Emphasis added.)

Nikki at UN

Rhonda, the submachine-gunner (talkin’ about the girl)

OK, this is my second attempt in as many days to get some Warren Zevon going.

This was pretty much a failure yesterday, drawing only one “favorite” on Twitter. Of course, it was about Flynn:

And if you don’t get it, here’s the song.

Today, I was sort of bowled over by this picture, with this story in The Washington Post:

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With her Nordic beauty — the icy blue eyes and the blonde pigtails — and of course her automatic weapon slung across her belly, she seemed the perfect female counterpart of Roland the Thompson Gunner, Norway’s bravest son. Except, you know, she has a head.

Yeah, I know “submachine” doesn’t work as a substitute for “Thompson” — it doesn’t scan right, or the metre’s wrong, or something. (I’ve long ago forgotten exactly what those terms mean, although I remember that “outfielder” is a dactyl. That’s not from school, though; it’s from Herman Wouk’s novel City Boy.) In any case, too many syllables.

Go ahead, sneer at my poetry. I just thought I’d share. And I hope that Boris Roessler and the European Pressphoto Agency don’t mind my showing you their photo of the lovely, well-armed cop…

Well that’s a start, senators

"Time for a course correction, captain!" (Don't you love when Putin plays dress-up?)

“One ping only, Vasily!” (Don’t you love when Putin plays dress-up?)

Jennifer Rubin had a column today headlined, “When will Congress take on Trump?” Something I’ve wondered myself. As she puts it:

President Trump provides neither coherent nor conservative leadership on policy. He creates foreign policy fiascoes. He has not resolved his conflicts of interest and still arguably operates in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. When, irate Democrats and some Republicans plead, will Congress do something about him?

Well, I’m not saying this is enough by a long shot, but it’s a start. This is from Lindsey Graham:

Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Legislation establishing Congressional Oversight of Russia Sanctions Relief

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of Senators today introduced legislation, The Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017, which provides for congressional oversight of any decision to provide sanctions relief to the Government of the Russian Federation.

“Russia has done nothing to be rewarded with sanctions relief,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).  “To provide relief at this time would send the wrong signal to Russia and our allies who face Russian oppression. Sanctions relief must be earned, not given.”

“If the U.S. were to provide sanctions relief to Russia without verifiable progress on the Minsk Agreements, we would lose all credibility in the eyes of our allies in Europe and around the world,” said Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).  “Since the illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2014, Congress has led efforts to impose sanctions on Russia.  We have a responsibility to exercise stringent oversight over any policy move that could ease Russia sanctions.”

“The United States should not ease sanctions on Russia until Putin abandons his illegal annexation of Crimea, verifiably and permanently ends Russian aggression in Ukraine, and fully implements the Minsk accords,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

“The Ukrainian community in Ohio knows firsthand the dangers of unchecked Russian aggression,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “Lifting sanctions now would only reward Russia’s attempts to undermine democracy – from Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to our own U.S. election. This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will give Congress – and more importantly, the constituents we answer to – a say in critical national security debates.”

“Easing sanctions on Russia would send the wrong message as Vladimir Putin continues to oppress his citizens, murder his political opponents, invade his neighbors, threaten America’s allies, and attempt to undermine our elections,” said Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). “Congress must have oversight of any decision that would impact our ability to hold Russia accountable for its flagrant violation of international law and attack our institutions.”

“Vladimir Putin is a thug bent on tearing down democracy—and Russia’s meddling in U.S. institutions is a threat to our national security,” said Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri).“Any decision to roll over on sanctions needs to meet a high bar in Congress.”

Before sanctions relief can be granted, The Russia Sanctions Review Act requires the Administration to submit to Congress:

  • A description of the proposed sanctions relief for individuals engaged in significant malicious cyber-enabled activities, those contributing to the situation in Ukraine, and those engaged in certain transactions with respect to Crimea.
  • Certification that the Government of the Russian Federation has ceased—

Ø  ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, supporting, or financing, significant acts intended to undermine the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, including through an agreement between the appropriate parties; and

Ø  cyberattacks against the United States Government and United States persons.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will have 120 days to act — or decline to take action — on any proposed sanctions relief.  During this period, the President may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation.  After 120 days, if both the Senate and House have not voted in support of a Joint Resolution of Disapproval, sanctions relief will be granted.

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Hamiltonians, Wilsonians, Jeffersonians and Jacksonians

If you’d like to soothe your jangled nerves with an interesting intellectual take on WTF just happened to America, you might want to read this piece in Foreign Affairs by Walter Russell Mead, Columbia native and “radical centrist.”

It’s headlined, “The Jacksonian Revolt.”

Mead

Mead

Here’s the short version: We Hamiltonians and Wilsonians (going by Mead’s descriptions, I’m kind of both, which is unsurprising) have pretty much defined America’s prevailing values and role in the world for the past 70 years. We thought this was the natural, proper order of things, and the way everything was trending as well. But while we were thinking globally and in terms of universal principles, there was… I suppose one would call it discontent… at home. The Jeffersonians (a category that includes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, which clues you in that I’m not one of them) thought this was a wave they could ride to power, but they reckoned without the way the Jacksonians ran in and grabbed the nation by the throat with all the thoughtfulness and refinement of the backwoodsmen who trashed the White House after the original Jackson’s inauguration. (Some of the editorializing in that last sentence is me, not Mead. In case you wondered.)

Mead is not saying anything new, for him or anyone else — I called your attention to him when he made some of the same points more than a year ago. And I’ve spent much of the past year worrying that our country was repeating the horror of the Election of 1828, only more so.

But now that it’s happened, and now that this latter-day Jackson is trashing not just the White House, but practically every aspect of rational U.S. policy in the world, this seems like a good time for a deeper look into what has happened, and is happening.

An excerpt from Mead’s piece:

The distinctively American populism Trump espouses is rooted in the thought and culture of the country’s first populist president, Andrew Jackson. For Jacksonians—who formed the core of Trump’s passionately supportive base—the United States is not a political entity created and defined by a set of intellectual propositions rooted in the Enlightenment and oriented toward the fulfillment of a universal mission. Rather, it is the nation-state of the American people, and its chief business lies at home. Jacksonians see American exceptionalism not as a function of the universal appeal of American ideas, or even as a function of a unique American vocation to transform the world, but rather as rooted in the country’s singular commitment to the equality and dignity of individual American citizens. The role of the U.S. government, Jacksonians believe, is to fulfill the country’s destiny by looking after the physical security and economic well-being of the American people in their national home—and to do that while interfering as little as possible with the individual freedom that makes the country unique. 

Jacksonian populism is only intermittently concerned with foreign policy, and indeed it is only intermittently engaged with politics more generally. It took a particular combination of forces and trends to mobilize it this election cycle, and most of those were domestically focused. In seeking to explain the Jacksonian surge, commentators have looked to factors such as wage stagnation, the loss of good jobs for unskilled workers, the hollowing out of civic life, a rise in drug use—conditions many associate with life in blighted inner cities that have spread across much of the country. But this is a partial and incomplete view. Identity and culture have historically played a major role in American politics, and 2016 was no exception. Jacksonian America felt itself to be under siege, with its values under attack and its future under threat. Trump—flawed as many Jacksonians themselves believed him to be—seemed the only candidate willing to help fight for its survival….

As you can see, his tones are measured as he describes this resurgence of anti-intellectualism in our politics. That’s what I’m talking about when I say you may find reading the piece soothing. Then again, maybe you won’t…

Mead writes politely of the Jacksonians, but Foreign Affairs paired his piece with this image of them celebrating on Election Night.

Mead writes politely of the Jacksonians, but Foreign Affairs paired his piece with this image of them celebrating on Election Night. Even I’m nicer to them than that…

WSJ’s Stephens on Trump: ‘capricious, counterproductive, cruel and dumb’

Kudos to The Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens, who is continuing to keep the heat on Donald J. Trump, even as some others on the paper’s editorial page — who also know better — seem to have lost the will to do so.Bret Stephens

His piece today, headlined “The Wrong Kind of Crazy,” plays off of the Nixonian global strategy — the “madman theory” — of keeping adversaries in the dark about what you might do in a crisis, which theoretically causes them to tread lightly. In the hands of grounded figures such as Nixon and Kissinger, the approach made some sense. But that was in the case of rational actors — the “madman” part was that you wanted your adversaries to want to act in ways that would keep you rational.

It doesn’t work so well when your president is an ignoramus who basically doesn’t do rational, or at least doesn’t do it any more often than a stopped clock states the right time.

Which brings us to the present day, of course, since this is the first time in our history that we’ve been in such a situation.

Stephens says Trump has done one thing so far that — against a background of Nixonian stability and pragmatism — could have fit in the “good crazy” category: throwing China off-balance with that phone call with the Taiwanese president. As he wrote, If Beijing wants to use ambiguous means to dominate the South China Sea, why shouldn’t Washington hit back with ambiguous devices of its own?”

Unfortunately, practically all of Trump’s brand of nuttiness is “the wrong kind of crazy: capricious, counterproductive, cruel and dumb:”

So much was evident with the president’s refugee ban on Saturday. And with Steve Bannon’s elevation to the National Security Council, and the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s demotion from it. And with the announcement Wednesday that Mexico would pay for the wall. And with the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on Monday and the aggressively protectionist themes of his inaugural. And with his performance at CIA headquarters. And with his incontinent fixations on crowd size and alleged voter fraud….

That’s quite a list, isn’t it, describing the insane things done by an administration that’s only 11 days old? (And that’s a nice phrase: “incontinent fixations.”)

Just take one item: Replacing the head of the Joint Chiefs with Breitbart’s Bannon on the National Security Council would by itself be enough for me, were I a member to Congress, to start looking into impeachment procedures. That’s just beyond gross.

Anyway, I appreciate that Stephens isn’t going all wobbly…

The theory is, there's good crazy and bad crazy.

The theory is, there’s good crazy and there’s bad crazy.

 

Trump just handed the Pacific Rim to China

Trump, thinking hard before killing TPP. Feel free to laugh bitterly.

Trump, thinking hard before killing TPP. Feel free to laugh bitterly.

Well, he didn’t just do it. I tweeted about it eight hours ago, but now let’s discuss it here.

Here’s what’s happened:

President Trump began recasting America’s role in the global economy Monday, canceling an agreement for a sweeping trade deal with Asia that he once called a “potential disaster.”

Trump signed the executive order formally ending the United States’ participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Oval Office after discussing American manufacturing with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room. The order was largely symbolic — the deal was already essentially dead in Congress — but served to signal that Trump’s tough talk on trade during the campaign will carry over to his new administration….

“This abrupt action so early in the Trump administration puts the world on notice that all of America’s traditional economic and political alliances are now open to reassessment and renegotiation,” said Eswar Prasad, trade policy professor at Cornell University. “This could have an adverse long-run impact on the ability of the U.S. to maintain its influence and leadership in world economic and political affairs.”…

Yeah, well, that’s not all it can do, and probably will do.

We’ve heard a lot of nonsense in the past year about TPP, most of which had little to do with what was actually at stake. There was a good piece summing up the situation fairly neatly in the NYT in November after the election. First, it explained, “the deal, between the United States and 11 Asian and Pacific nations, was never just about trade.” So what was it about? Serious, sweeping, grownup-level geopolitics:

The agreement, the Trans­-Pacific Partnership, was conceived as a vital move in the increasingly tense chess match between China and the United States for economic and military influence in the fastest­-growing and most strategically uncertain part of the world. The deal, which excluded China, was intended to give those 11 nations more leverage in that strained match by providing them with a viable economic alternative. And its defeat is an unalloyed triumph for China, the country that President­-elect Donald J. Trump castigated repeatedly over trade…

Now, instead of Pacific Rim nations gathering under American leadership, growing closer in the face of increasing lawless aggression by China, we have China moving to do much the same deal under its own leadership, freezing us out.

And we’re not just talking about weak-kneed nations in China’s geographic shadow, or some of the usual suspects in our own hemisphere, where the Chinese have been steadily wooing friends for a generation:

Australia said on Wednesday that it wanted to push ahead with a Chinese-­led trade pact that would cover Asian nations from Japan to India but exclude the United States. Peru has opened talks with Beijing to join the agreement as well. Even American business leaders are positioning themselves for the potential opportunities in Asia…

Et tu, Australia? One of our four closest friends in the world?

Of course, none of this matters a bit to Mr. America First, who likes to grumble at China but will hand Pacific leadership to it in order to curry favor with his isolationist, xenophobic base.

We’ve been in danger on this issue all year, with gratuitous populism washing over both ends of our political spectrum.

Some of my interlocutors here like to excuse Trump now and then by castigating Hillary Clinton for this or that. Everyone has his or her favorite Hillary sins to cite. Well, you know what I think is the most reprehensible, unprincipled thing she did in the past year?

It was turning away from TPP. And it was the worst because she knew better. Sanders and Trump didn’t but she did. And she lacked the confidence, security and character to stand up to the Feel the Bern crowd, even as the grownups in the Obama administration were working double tides to salvage sound policy.

So we were headed toward the wrong door either way. The only hope was that she might have hesitated when it came time to kill this “gold standard” (her words) agreement outright.

Trump, who is not burdened by knowing better, did not hesitate for an instant. And now, no doubt, they’re breaking out the Maotai in Beijing, because an advantageous position for the cause of freedom in the world just got flipped upside-down….

And now, we have China threatening ‘a large-scale war’

China's one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

China’s one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

Or rather, we have state-controlled media doing so, which is a signal I think we have to take seriously:

The US risks a “large-scale war” with China if it attempts to blockade islands in the South China Sea, Chinese state media has said, adding that if recent statements become policy when Donald Trump takes over as president “the two sides had better prepare for a military clash”.

China has controversially built fortifications and artificial islands across the South China Sea. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said China’s “access to those islands … is not going to be allowed”.

China claims nearly the entire area, with rival claims by five south-east Asian neighbours and Taiwan.

Tillerson did not specify how the US would block access but experts agreed it could only be done by a significant show of military force. Tillerson likened China’s island building to “Russia’s taking of Crimea”.

“Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories,” said an editorial in the Global Times, a Communist-party controlled newspaper….

I’m not disagreeing with anything Tillerson said, mind you — and it’s not all that different from the policy followed by the Obama administration — but the current situation is fraught.

On a previous post about Nikki Haley, Phillip Bush said:

That’s going to be a tough job, representing the views of the United States to the United Nations and the world when your own Administration is going to be one squabbling, Tweeting, contradictory, capricious, incoherent mess, especially on foreign policy. Her greatest challenge will come not from fellow delegates at the UN or on the Security Council, but trying to sort out and gracefully convey the day-to-day contradictions emanating from the government she is appointed to represent….

Yep.

One of the main narratives of this week has been that Trump’s nominees are not toeing the Trump line, particularly on foreign policy. Which in one way is encouraging (the nominees’ take is usually far wiser and better-informed), but in another way can lead to chaotic, incoherent policy, an unstable situation in which an unstable personality (hint, hint) can trigger an international crisis, perhaps even war, with a phone call — or a Tweet.

I have little doubt that Nikki Haley will conduct herself “gracefully,” but I do worry quite a bit about a diplomatic novice representing us on the Security Council without expert supervision and direction. That said, in a crisis, Nikki would be the least of my worries. And of course, the new POTUS would be my greatest.

What if, sometime after next Friday, Chinese state media issues a blustering threat like that, and includes some less-than-flattering reflections on Trump himself? How do you suppose he’ll react? And who will be able to contain him? And will they be in time?

All the President-Elect’s Men

Remember the last scene of “All the President’s Men?” If you don’t, you can watch it above.

Pretty powerful. On a television on a desk in the newsroom of The Washington Post, Richard Nixon is seen triumphant, being inaugurated for the second time as president. In the background, across the newsroom, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (OK — Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, really) are not watching the event, because they’re too busy pounding out one of the stories that will bring Nixon down.

We experienced a moment like that tonight. In a prelude to the inauguration of Donald Trump next week, President Barack Obama was delivering a particularly graceful valedictory address — our last worthy, fit president reminding us of the values that America is supposed to be about. The feeling of the passing of American greatness was palpable. We had a good run there, for 44 presidents. Or 43, if you leave out James Buchanan.

Half of Twitter — including me (you can go peruse my Tweets) — was writing about that. The other half was writing about this, which corresponds to the counterpoint of Woodstein hammering away at the story that will doom the new president. Check this out:

Or this version:

Or, if you’re into the salacious, this:

Wow. I mean, just… wow.

This is early. The picture is incomplete. There’s always the chance that, as Trump claims, this is “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” After all, there’s a lot of that going around lately.

But I have never, ever heard of allegations like this, however flimsy, being made about anyone about to become president of the United States. That alone makes this unprecedented.

The report alleges that, while Trump turned down some sweet deals offered by the Russians, “he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” Yeah, and “FSB has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.”

Who knows at this point what’s true? For their part, though, our top intelligence chiefs found it worthy of passing on to the current and future presidents last week.

Here’s a caveat in The Guardian‘s story:

Despite glowing references from US and foreign officials who have worked with the source, there are some errors in the reports. One describes the Moscow suburb of Barvikha as “reserved for the residences of the top leadership and their close associates”, but although it is a very expensive neighbourhood, there are no restrictions on who can own property there. The document also misspells the name of a Russian banking corporation…

Must give us pause. But speaking of misspellings, The Guardian mentioned “Senator Lyndsey Graham” in the same story.

I don’t know where this is going to go. But it feels like one of those moments. You know, like in the movie…

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Of course, we don’t know the Russians DIDN’T win it for Trump, either — and that’s the genius in what they did

As serious people do everything they can to persuade Donald Trump and his followers that they must take the Russian attack on the bedrock of our democracy seriously, they keep stressing, in the most soothing tones they can muster:

We’re not saying the Russians threw the election to Trump. We’re saying they tried to, and that’s something that must be taken seriously, however you voted…

I’ve done the same thing here, repeatedly, although with no discernible effect.

And I and others will keep on saying it, because it’s true: We don’t know, we can’t know, whether Russian meddling actually threw the election to Trump.

Of course, there’s an unstated second side to that coin. If we don’t know Putin decided the election, we don’t know that he didn’t, either.

And that’s the side of the coin that I think everyone sort of instinctively understands, and which therefore makes this conversation so difficult.

Here’s the problem: It was a close election, so close that Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College while winning the popular vote. That means any one of a number of factors could, by itself, account for the losing margin.

In other words, it’s not only possible but perhaps likely that all of the following elements had to be present to get Trump to an Electoral College win:

  • Let’s start with the biggie: The fact that the Democrats nominated the most hated major-party nominee in modern history, except for Donald Trump himself. This is the major factor that, while it couldn’t give him the win (since he was despised even more), it kept him in the game from the start. All other factors after this are minor, but remember: the whole thing was so close that it’s possible that every minor factor had to be present as well.
  • Clinton’s private server. Assuming this had to be present, she doomed herself years ago.
  • Her fainting spell. Here the Russians were, working like crazy to spread rumors about her health, and a moment of human weakness hands them this beautifully wrapped gift.
  • Comey’s on-again, off-again investigations. I’m not saying he was trying to sabotage the election, but if he had been, his timing couldn’t have been better.
  • The anti-qualifications madness sweeping through the electorate across the political spectrum. This populist surge produced both Trump and Bernie. In this election, solid credentials were a handicap. And poor Hillary had a great resume, as resumes have historically been judged.
  • The Russian operation, which gave us a drip-drip-drip of embarrassments (none of which would have amounted to anything alone) with the hacked emails, and a really masterful disinformation campaign as Russians blended into the crowd of alt-right rumormongers.

Could Trump still have won if you took away the Russian efforts — or the FBI investigations, or Hillary’s pneumonia, or any other factor? Well, we don’t know. We can’t know — an individual decision to vote a certain way is composed of all sorts of factors. I can’t give you a breakdown, with percentages, weighting every factor that goes into my own voting decisions — even though I’ve had all that practice over the years explaining endorsements. So I certainly couldn’t do it in assessing the decisions of millions of voters out there. And there’s no way to correlate the effect of any single factor meaningfully with the actual vote totals in the states Trump won.

So we don’t know, do we? The Russians think they know, which is why our intelligence establishment detected them high-fiving each other over Trump’s victory. But they can’t know, either. They certainly didn’t know they’d accomplished their goal before the vote, because they were geared up to sow doubts about the legitimacy of what they expected to be a Clinton victory.

It’s safe to say Trump wouldn’t have won if those other factors hadn’t been present. But I don’t see how we will ever know whether Russian meddling put him over the top.

And as much as anything, that is the most brilliant stroke by the Russians. The effect of what they did can’t be measured. Consequently, they have us doubting ourselves, flinging accusations about motives and completely divided in our perception of reality. We’ll probably be fighting over this for as long as this election is remembered.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I will again, for Bryan’s sake if no one else’s: In the Patrick O’Brian novels he and I enjoy so much, a favorite toast for Royal Navy officers in the early 19th century was “Confusion to Bonaparte,” or just, “Confusion to Boney.”

The ideal codename for the Russian operation messing with our election would be “Confusion to America.” Because there’s no doubt that they have achieved that

"Confusion to Boney!"

“Confusion to Boney!”

Graham to any Republican who discounts Russian actions: “You are a political hack.”

Some excerpts from Lindsey Graham’s appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday:

All I’m asking [President-elect Trump] is to acknowledge that Russia interfered [in our election] and push back. It could be Iran next time, it could be China. It was Democrats today, it could be Republicans in the next election….

Our lives are built around the idea that we’re free people, that we go to the ballot box, that we have political contests outside of foreign interference. You can’t go on with your life as a democracy when a foreign entity is trying to compromise the election process. So Mr. President-elect, it is very important that you show leadership here….

We should all – Republicans and Democrats – condemn Russia for what they did. To my Republican friends who are gleeful: you’re making a huge mistake. When WikiLeaks released information during the Bush years about the Iraq War that was embarrassing to the administration, that put our troops at risk, most Democrats condemned it, some celebrated it. Most Republicans are condemning what Russia did, and to those who are gleeful about it, you’re a political hack. You’re not a Republican, you’re not a patriot. If this is not about us, then I’ll never know what will be about us. Because when one party is compromised, all of us are compromised….

graham-still

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….