I’m writing on Saturday, so let’s hope we’re all still here to read it on Sunday.
As is becoming almost usual, I’m leading off with Patrick Cockburn:
War-whoops and loud applause from foreign policy establishments and their media supporters have greeted President Trump’s missile strike in Syria, the dropping of the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan and the dispatch of a naval task force in the direction of North Korea.
This spurt in belligerence over the last week has as much to do with domestic American politics as any fundamental new development in the rest of the world. Trump needed to defuse the accusation that he was too close to President Putin and too tolerant of a Russian ally like Bashar al-Assad. The resort to military action was largely in keeping with the old Pentagon saying that “defence policy ends at the water’s edge”, meaning that it is politics inside, not outside the US, which is the real decision-maker.
Simple-minded though some of Trump’s declarations might appear, others were more realistic than anything said by Hillary Clinton or Senator John McCain.
In Syria, for instance, the main problem for the US and its allies is and has long been that, though they would very much like to get rid of Assad, the only alternative appears to be anarchy or the empowerment of Isis and al-Qaeda clones. Clinton’s policy, insofar as she had one, was to pretend that there already existed, or could be created, a “third force” in Syria that would fight and ultimately replace both Isis and Assad. This is the sort of fantasy that is frequently common currency among think tanks and dedicated experts, often retired generals or diplomats working as TV commentators.
Trump’s summary of what was happening in Syria expressed during the presidential campaign was far more realistic. He said that his attitude was that “you are fighting Syria, Syria is fighting Isis, and you have to get rid of Isis. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful because of us, aligned with Syria… Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”
Obama could see what was going wrong, though he generally responded with stoic resignation rather than attempting to change the course of events. But his analysis of the weaknesses of the US foreign policy establishment and its policies is full of fascinating insights relevant to the more conventional policy on which Donald Trump is now apparently embarking. Goldberg says that Obama “questioned, often harshly, the role that America’s Sunni Arab allies play in fomenting anti-American terrorism. He is clearly irritated that foreign policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally.” He had similar misgivings about US links to Pakistan.
One thing I very much like about Cockburn is his skepticism about politicians of all stripes. I’ve not been able to detect him pushing any particular line while writing about the ME conflicts beyond a slight sympathy for the Kurds’ wish to have a safe space where they can be left alone.
I don’t mind his criticism of HRC in the slightest: I was a strong supporter of her candidacy, but I was never under the illusion that I’d be entirely comfortable with her military stance (although I never bought the idiot Left’s lurid depictions of her as a bloodthirsty warmonger).
It’s been pretty clear to me for some time that there are no good guys in the Syria/ISIS conflict: Assad is a monstrous butcher, but the Syrian opposition aren’t exactly models of upright decency either. So I’ll continue to let Cockburn explain to me what’s going on.
One thing is evident, though. POTUS* is changing his little mind. Mark Steel comments:
What a relief to discover that after all our worries, Donald Trump is full of heart. Now many people who suggested he was a narcissistic, bigoted maniac have realised they misunderstood him and he’s a tender emotional sort, because his order to bomb Syria proves he was moved by the pictures of children attacked by President Assad.
There’s no real indication of whether the bombing had any military impact or what it was designed to do, but that doesn’t matter. It was a symbolic gesture and Assad now knows if he uses any more chemical weapons, he’ll be dealt another one. Trump might poison his fish or even unfollow him on Twitter, because he’s motivated by his heart.
It may be true that other bombing sessions out there, such as the ones in Iraq or Libya, didn’t go entirely to plan, but this is a much simpler situation, and carried out by a President known for carefully nuanced subtlety, so it’s hard to see a problem.
This time the bombing is simple. So if you don’t support it, you’re helping Assad. This is different from a couple of years ago when we were asked to support the bombing of Isis, who were fighting against Assad. At that point anyone not supporting the bombing was told they were helping Isis, and not backing Assad enough. Sometimes we might change sides during a bombing campaign, but then we simply shout down to everyone and ask them to move around so the bombs land on the right people.
As proof of his careful planning, Trump now claims Nato is not obsolete after all, which some journalists who follow him closely suggest could indicate a possible change from his earlier claims that Nato was an utterly obsolete useless turd.
Mention of NATO leads naturally to some coverage of POTUS*’s meeting with its Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Frithjof Jacobsen has some thoughts:
The same day that Jens Stoltenberg spent an entire afternoon in the White House – he was there much longer than the time it took to meet Trump – the Washington Post published an article about how difficult it is for leaders to get something concrete out of meetings with Trump. Several sources in Washington’s diplomatic corps have said that the meetings with Trump created uncertainty and doubt, because the president just sat there, seemingly without a plan for what was to come out of them.
An unnamed source said it was like getting into a bar and just ending up talking to a stranger on the stool beside. In and of itself one of the nicest things to happen in a bar, but not so fine for creating order in international politics. Had it been the Irish prime minister could perhaps live with it, but everyone who comes into the Oval Office does so with a deep need for direction, leadership and oversight. That is not what they get from Trump
As far as I understand, Stoltenberg’s most important meeting happened before he met the president. The meeting also took place in the White House, but not in the Oval Office. It was the office of the National Security Advisor HR McMaster, at which Defense Minister James Mattis was also present. The two former generals, along with Secretary of Rex Tillerson, seem now to be those that in practice create and execute US foreign and security policy.
This is in a way good news for NATO and Europe, since they both have a safe and traditional approach to the things NATO cares about. But it also shows how confusing and person-based power relations are in Trump’s administration. And a little disturbing is to see how apparently quickly Trump can park counselor Steve Bannon and his wing, which barely one hundred days ago seemed to be the central political power around Trump. If they can be sidelined so quickly, we have no guarantee that the generals will not be sent to the doghouse at short notice.
Now let’s move on to something else, such as the special election in GA. Annett Meiritz has a clear-eyed report for Der Spiegel:
Since Donald Trump entered the White House, the Democrats have had an identity crisis. In Ossoff, the party sees the first opportunity for revenge against Trump – although the candidate is only competing in a district election in the state of Georgia.
Ossoff is trying to win a congressional district in the north of Atlanta, which has been won by Republicans for almost 40 years, for the Democrats. His chances are not bad.
Outside Georgia, Ossoff has supporters all across the party, but on the ground it is almost exclusively women who are active for him. One of the largest on-site groups, Pave it Blue, has more than a thousand members and comes from a Facebook group for mothers from the neighborhood.
“Up until recently I had nothing to do with politics, I sat on the couch and screamed at the TV,” says supporter Sheila Leby. Now she knocks on doors, starts telephone chains, distributes stickers in shopping centers and pubs.
Elsewhere in the US the protest against Trump is also driven by women, as the movement around the Women’s March showed. Nevertheless, one ought not to conclude too much from Ossoff’s home district on the mobilization potential of an entire nation. Many women who live here can afford to wave posters on a weekday morning. The area – white, prosperous, high SUV density – hardly represents the average.
Should Ossoff finally turn the district from red to blue, this may be due to a desire for feel-good politics. Ossoff, who wants to make Atlanta the “Silicon Valley of the South” and wants to defend “democratic values”, has a polite and smart effect on people. He wears a suit, is well-groomed, and grips the hands of his visitors often a second longer than necessary.
Moving quickly on again, Davin O’Dwyer has some views about Jared Kushner’s new role.
Trump isn’t the first leader to add the word innovation to the name of a government department, of course – Canada, Australia and, yes, Ireland also have departments nominally dedicated to innovation. Indeed, we currently have two Ministers with innovation in their job titles – Mary Mitchell O’Connor and John Halligan are tasked with keeping Ireland at the cutting edge.
However, in these cases, innovation is being tacked on to add a veneer of modernity to the same government apparatus that has always overseen industrial policy. The rebranding is a swift, cheap way of giving the impression that the old departments of industry are all over the burgeoning technology sector.
In the case of the Kushner Office for American Innovation, however, the goal is far more pernicious. Discussing the new department, President Donald Trump told the Post: “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.”
Here we have the purest distillation of that persistent canard – that government must be run more like business. It is the logical conclusion of a sort of radical free-market ideology that sees a “business” approach as the only solution to whatever problem faces society. It is certainly not a new idea, with versions of it gaining popularity at various stages over the past few centuries, but its most ardent devotees seem resistant to all contrary evidence.
That’s not to say that government can’t learn anything from the world of business, but rather that the lessons are not universally transferable.
Sascha Lobo has some thoughts about the world of business occasioned by Dr Dao being dragged off United’s plane:
The unbelievable handling of the passenger by United Airlines and its vicarious agents is a direct result of the lack of choice of the customers, which can also be seen in the fact that in a crowded aircraft not a single passenger was willing to leave for 800 dollars. The ugly face of a monopoly is the fact that you can treat your customers like crap. They have no immediate alternative.
This is where social media and their power comes into play, which is amplified by billions of electronic eyes and ears on smartphones. Digital social networking can have a regulating effect – for fear. Because every single customer could theoretically put precisely the video, exactly the photo, exactly the posting into the world which will damage a company as much as the United video.
Social media can drive the price of bad customer care to astronomical heights. Economically, one could say that lack of consumer protection or lack of competition is a counter-force: a regulation gap is filled with the foaming indignation of the public….
The bloody doctor has become a symbol of the miserable treatment of customers by corporations. And together with the tangle of rage in social media, it also symbolizes the fact that customers will not be able to afford everything, even if they do not have a real market choice due to a lack of competition.
Unfortunately, the emphasis here is on “symbol”, because social media are too discontinuous, too fast and too volatile to be able to counteract a market that is dysfunctional by monopolies or oligopolies in the long term.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it’s the Spanish media which is keeping the closest eye on El Muro. Here’s a piece from ABC:
Trump is behind the times: the famous wall already exists. And in some parts there is even a double barrier. When a passenger leaves the terminal of the Tijuana airport, the first thing he sees on the other side of the road is the approximately six meters of fence that divides both countries. And immediately afterwards there is a second wall to reinforce the entrance to the United States. But not all the border is walled. They are more than 3,000 kilometers of dividing line and about 1,000 kilometers have already been entrenched with barbed wire, steel rods and cement. However, illegal immigration has continued to flow into the world’s first economy .
“Right now it takes migrants 20 seconds to jump the current wall. With Trump’s it will be 40 seconds, it will not stop them “, says Enrique Morones, founder of the NGO Ángeles de la Frontera, dedicated to the support of undocumented immigrants in the United States. The current barrier – which was begun in 1994 – was created to curb drug trafficking and Latin American immigrants to the United States. But both have kept coming.
“The only thing that this wall has done is to cause the death of 11,000 people,” a figure they calculate in Angeles de la Frontera, but it is difficult to know because there are no data for many of the dead in the desert. They are three days walking, carrying very limited reserves of water in an area where it is very hot by the day and very cold at night. Many die from hypothermia and dehydration to achieve their dream of treading on American soil.
President Trump now seeks funds to surround the 2,000 kilometers that are missing from the border (almost from Madrid to Berlin by road), a project estimated by Congress to cost around $ 21.6 billion (the Madrid-Barcelona high-speed rail link cost approximately 9,000 million). Enrique touches a rudimentary forged iron staircase in his office. “I found it near the wall. You know what’s going to happen if Trump builds a 13-meter wall? There will be stairs of 13 meters, “he said.
I present this next piece with some trepidation, because I know a number of people are already sick to death of NYT pieces explaining how Trump voters are the salt of the earth who need particular attention (not to mention various supposedly liberal politicians touting a similar line), but this article by Franziska Bulban is a thoughtful attempt to make Trump supporters comprehensible to bemused Europeans:
Anyone who wants to know what the main table thinks must get up early in Yadkin County. Between six and eight o’clock, while the sun is shining over the hilly foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the family restaurant “Mount Olympus” is a lively place to visit. 25 to 30 farmers are sitting around a long table, ordering Hashbrowns and Bacon, drinking iced tea and coffee, talking about the surprising cold weather in March, about new tobacco regulations, cars, family and politics. Almost eighty percent of voters in Yadkin County – roughly two hours in a car from North Carolina’s capital, Raleigh – voted for Donald Trump in November, one of his strongest constituencies in the competitive “swing state”.
Many Europeans may be inclined to ask what Trump could do for a conservative Baptist like Chief Parks to consider it inappropriate. However, on the journey through Yadkin County conversations reveal: people do not even believe that Trump can implement all his plans. As soon as one moves away from the election campaign, some sentences that come up can also be said by Democrats. In the end almost everyone wants the same: an affordable health system. To feel safe. Economic success
….Lee Zachary – 70 years old, Republican, Representative for Yadkin County in the House of North Carolina – looks thoughtfully through his rimless glasses. “I have a friend, he’s from an old Democratic family, and perhaps, if we take away the political labels, we would be amazingly similar.”
Zachary is a lawyer in Yadkinville, but when the House is in session, he is at least three days a week in the capital, Raleigh. Here in the House of the Legislature he has an unadorned office with gray painted masonry stones and a desk that is overflowing with requests. Zachary has long been involved in local politics in order to “swing the pendulum in both directions,” as he puts it. Trump has not been in office long enough to allow himself a verdict.
That the president had announced, for example, the “draining of the swamp”, but now depends on employees of Wall Street, he does not necessarily find to be a contradiction – on the stock exchange one can find people with the view of the big picture. “You know what many people do not understand: people accept the weaknesses of The Donald as long as he does something about professional politics. And the media, “says Zachary. He was afraid some voters were simply disgusted by compromises. “As a lawyer, I know: If after some negotiations only one is happy, this is a bad result, because the other side will always doubt and challenge. A good result is when both sides are a bit dissatisfied – but can live with it. “It is an interesting comparison that Zachary makes. When looking at elections as a negotiation about the representation of a society, then perhaps one side was too happy under Obama. And maybe now the other side is too happy under Trump. True success would be to celebrate the compromise more than the victory of one’s own side.
Could there be something the President could do wrong for Yadkin County? “Hardly,” says Zachary. “He could drive us into a war or a depression, but not much else. If Trump manages to bring back a few jobs – great. If not, we have lost nothing. “
Now, that wasn’t so painful, was it? Some of what some Trump supporters say is reminiscent of Patrick Cockburn’s evident frustration with an establishment which is entirely comfortable with the conventional wisdom, whether or not the conventional wisdom makes sense or gets us anywhere.
I don’t think there is much bad in the idea that the conventional wisdom needs to be challenged. It’s honestly appalling that it takes someone as bonkers as Trump to do it: it’s what sensible people ought to be doing a lot more of. The conventional wisdom may well be right in a lot of cases, but even that needs to be checked every so often to see whether it’s still right.
Which is a way of segueing over to the French election. From my admittedly superficial knowledge of Emmanuel Macron’s program, there are some bits I like and some I dislike, but he is a centrist with imagination who doesn’t believe in the conventional wisdom or the traditional totems of left or right. Being a centrist doesn’t necessarily mean that you want more of the same or that you’re comfortable with where things are — it just means that you’re not on one extreme or another.
Predictably, the ideological left are going around saying that Macron isn’t progressive enough to deserve their vote assuming he gets to the run-off. In this piece, Jérôme Perrier replies to such a case being made by the political scientist Thomas Guénolé and offers this progressive argument for a Macron run-off vote:
Thomas Guénolé continues his pretended demonstration by explaining why Emmanuel Macron can not be considered a left-wing man when he defends, he says, the uberization of the economy, intends to “suppress the allowances of a Unemployed person who would refuse two offers paid 25% less than his previous job “, while proposing to ” lower the taxes of the shareholders “ and increase the CSG.
Clearly, the spirit of our political scientist has never been touched by the hypothesis that a man of the left, while remaining true to his values, may want to reform the labor market by putting an end to a certain number of rigidities, As the Social Democrat Schröder did in Germany some fifteen years ago; With the aim of finally putting an end to this insidious and catastrophic French preference for the unemployment which has plagued our society for some forty years (and that the “social treatment” engaged by all governments, right and left, Has never managed to defeat). After all, taking a model on our neighbor across the Rhine, where the unemployment rate has fallen to around 5%, is perhaps a way of defending labor value that is otherwise more relevant than the universal income of Benoît Hamon Or the 32 hours advocated by a left ensconced in the fallacious ideology of the end of work.
A Cold War Manicheism
On the other hand, in the matter of taxation, rather than opposing the rich and the poor in a cold-war manicheism, it must be possible for a left-leaning man with a minimum of common sense to admit that when one beats At the same time, all the records of taxation and public deficits, there is something rotten in the kingdom of France, and that it is not by eternally repeating the old antiphon of the “let’s pay the rich” Will lead to a solution that benefits everyone. Finally, even if Thomas Guénolé does not mention it, it can be argued that being a leftist is to defend Europe against the populists of all kinds, as – alone and courageously – Emmanuel Macron, rather than Seeking his models in the ruinous Bolivarianism of Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela or in Putin’s authoritarianism that seduces Jean-Luc Mélenchon – for whom the only devil that is worth is in Washington.
Regardless of Thomas Guénolé, one can indeed be liberal, European, Atlanticist, progressive and leftist.
I make no apology for supporting Macron: we saw last November what preciousness about one’s progressive principles can lead to.
Those who know of Les Événements of May 1968 may remember Danny the Red, who now prefers to be called Daniel Cohn-Bendit. He too has weighed in:
How do you judge the tone of this campaign?
I think a lot of people are derailed. I do not understand the options some want to take. Take for example Thomas Piketty, a great world-renowned economist who advises Benoît Hamon but says today that in the second round he will vote Mélenchon and not Macron. This amounts to saying that the useful vote on the left is Mélenchon. Even Hamon said the same thing. It is a desertion in open country, a suicide in full flight. For there will never be a run-off between Mélenchon and Macron!
To find you with Bayrou, Villepin or Perben, it does not make you feel weird?
But stop. If I were with the PS or Mélenchon, I would also find myself with strange people. I am simply saying that today the coalition to repel Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon is there. Let us not forget that the ultrathatcherian right, reactionary and catholic, is still standing. She’s prepared to fuck businessmen as much as the far right supports Le Pen. Today, the candidate to get out of this slump is rather Emmanuel Macron. But I frankly admit, to decide for him is to take a risk.
The risk is that Emmanuel Macron has a liberal-social or social-liberal program with an ecological platform that defends itself, even if Hamon goes further. I am a demanding supporter, not a blessed-yes-yes. Is he in favor of reducing the share of nuclear power to 50% in electricity in 2030? That means you have to close more than a nuclear power plant. Not just Fessenheim. When he says he is going to hand over an ecological taxation to relieve that of labor, it will have to be done. I will be demanding.
Will he not end up with a much more right-wing majority or be condemned to a standstill at the center?
Yes, there is a risk. But again, who will have a majority? None elected on May 7 will have an absolute majority in the legislative elections. There will likely be a strong representation of Launching the Assembly if Macron is elected, but he will not have the majority on his own. His ability to act will thus depend on the political intelligence of the Reformers on the left and on the right to find a compromise to govern. This is interesting and new in the current political period.
Lastly, here’s a piece surveying all the leading candidates by reference to the countries they have been visiting, of which I’m only excerpting a little:
Marine Le Pen, in search of credit and accustomed to misfires
Not obvious, for the president of the FN, as formerly for her father, to be received abroad. On the list of misses, recently: Canada, where the “officials” fled Marine Le Pen and England, where the candidate wanted to be seen hobnobbing with the pro-Brexit camp. The trip was eventually canceled.
In New York , in January, it was not quite that bad. Sold to the press as a private trip and not an official stay, the trip will still have been the occasion to see Marine Le Pen drinking a coffee at the bottom of the Trump Tower while the entourage of the American president hammered that no meeting was planned. But this move had perhaps another objective: money. As Libération had raised , the president of the FN was accompanied by Pierre Ceyrac, a former French representative of the Moon sect, who had organized the handshake between Reagan and [Jean-Marie] Le Pen.
François Fillon, the staging of the warlord
In June, the images were seen on almost all TV channels: François Fillon in Erbil , on the front line, with peshmergas. And beware, Daesh is only “a few kilometers away,” said a Kurdish fighter. A good comms operation, as evidenced by Paris Match , embedded in the suitcases of the candidate : “This passionate racing and mountaineering is never as comfortable as in dangerous situations.” If someone had doubts about Francois Fillon’s ability to wear the costume of a warlord, that is what is settled. And for the most skeptical, there was another trip, in Niger and Mali this time, for a visit to the French soldiers engaged in Operation Barkhane. Note that defense is just one of the only items of expenditure that the candidate wants to increase.
Benoît Hamon, moving as a political marker
For his first visit, Benoît Hamon chose Portugal . Random? Surely not. There, socialists, communists and the radical left have ignored their differences to govern together. A signal sent to the French left when the candidate still hoped for a large gathering, even irritating some socialists, not really delighted at the idea of topping with Mélenchon. He will also meet with the Director of the Institute of Drugs and Drug Addiction, while the country has decriminalized the use of all drugs. Accident? Always not. The candidate promises to legalize cannabis. In short, through this displacement, it is a “look, it is possible” that launched the candidate.
It’s a good read, although the odd paragraph emerges badly damaged from GoogleTranslate. Next Sunday is polling day.
And this Sunday is Easter Sunday. Whatever that means to you, have a good one.