European covfefe of POUTS this week has been dominated by the North Korea situation. Articles generally fall into one of two categories: first, assessments which say that events demonstrate that orange shitgibbons aren’t well-suited to the job of being President and second, those which wonder what is going to happen given that an orange shitgibbon actually is President. As regime change in DC is unlikely to occur overnight simply because a political journalist from Denmark thinks that the wrong bloke is in the White House/at a golf club, it has to be said that the second type is rather more enlightening.
Let’s start with David Criekemans in Belgium’s business paper De Tijd:
Intelligence services tend to adapt their reports to the world-wide view of the commander-in-chief. Trump has every need to make the North Korean threat look bigger than it is. It is a useful lightning conductor for developments in Russia – the alleged election collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign team.
That Trump is a follower of the ‘madman theory’ increases the likelihood of misjudgment. Former President Richard Nixon also performed this strategy during the Vietnam War. ‘Tricky dick’ showed that he was unpredictable and could be able to use nuclear weapons. Ronald Reagan also seemed willing to risk a global nuclear war in 1982, which kept Russian leader Yuri Andropov up at night.Unpredictability is essential in this approach. Through intimidation, one wants to bring the opponent to a different mindset. Is rationality hidden behind Trump’s seemingly warrior strategy? What makes this extra dangerous is that both the North Koreans and the US President use a brinkmanship approach. In other words, they are prepared to bring the situation to the brink of a war in the hope that the other side will blink first. For North Korea, military exchanges would lead to ruin.
The question is how to de-escalate the situation without losing sight of the parties. The key is mainly in China’s hands, the awakening giant in the region. Beijing is very bored with war rhetoric, which considers its alliance partner a destabilizing factor. Chinese diplomacy has already made substantial contributions in recent months to mitigate the danger, bilateral and multilateral. In the UN Security Council, there is at least unanimity on paper to tighten up the economic sanctions against Pyongyang. Due to the latest sanction, the North Koreans can no longer export coal, iron ore and fish, but still crude oil. Trade with China in particular will decrease by a third, from 3 to 2 billion dollars.
Several people take up the theme of what previous Presidents did. Such as Nathan Akehurst:
My generation, while able to watch the bombing of Iraq or the Syrian Civil War in more gruesome rolling detail than ever before, has been the first since the thirties to grow up in a world where instant annihilation was not a common, almost daily threat. As for this week’s brinksmanship, every country in the world has had leaders with a penchant for dangerous macho sabre-rattling. The United States, which has spent over 90 per cent of its history at war, is no exception.
This is why there is something concerning about our treatment of Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” rhetoric on North Korea. Framing it as something completely unprecedented, as leading establishment opponents have, betrays a wilful ignorance. Yes, Trump (and Kim Jong-un) make good comedy villains – malicious yet bumbling with both terrifying and comic features – but there is nothing new about the dangers they pose.
Pretending otherwise fits with a common establishment anti-Trump strategy; denying him a place in the American presidents’ hall of fame and rejecting his fans’ comparisons to Reagan, Jackson, and other “heroes.” It’s not true: Trump fans have a point when comparing him to Jackson, the right-wing populist behind a new era of plantation slavery on razed Native American land, or Reagan who ran dog-whistle racist campaigns at home while funding death squads abroad. Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, brazenly backed atrocities and coups under the auspices of Barack Obama’s White House and Hillary Clinton’s State Department.
There is plenty of continuity between Trump and the actions and rhetoric of past leaders.
This line of thinking opposes Trump not because of his dangerous rhetoric or his love of weapons of mass destruction, but because he is insufficiently polite about it all. We are left arguing not for the end of nuclear genocide buttons, but for them to belong to people who speak a little less intemperately, for a somewhat nicer and calmer approach to potential nuclear annihilation.
There is no shortage at all of articles calling on POUTS to tone down the rhetoric. Here, for instance, is Le Monde’s editorial:
The apocalyptic rhetoric and chin stroke were up to now the prerogative of Kim Jong-un. Donald Trump seems to have taken it into his head to challenge it . To remain in a diplomatic register, let us say that the American president, confronted with his first international crisis, arouses by his behavior the greatest perplexity. Not a day passes without a prospect of destructive retaliation against the threats of North Korea . With a result for the disconcerting hour: international attention is now centered on the United States, whereas it should focus on the paranoid regime of Pyongyang.
Mr Trump, who probably fails to give time for reflection and listening to his own experts, seems caught up in simple ideas… The President of the United States also weakens his positions when he expresses in the same moment, as he did on Thursday, August 10, the greatest reservations with regard to the last nuclear antiproliferation agreement concluded by his own country: the one concerning Iran . In so doing, it puts into perspective the scope of the negotiations with Pyongyang that Washington calls for.
It is understood that the threat of the use of force can be a legitimate card, as is the classic sharing of roles between the “good cop” (Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) and the “bad cop” ). This game, however, requires a subtle mixing and presupposes the coolest examination of reality. By clinging to the denial of a nuclear North Korea and campaigning for a military solution, when everything suggests that there can be no acceptable one, Mr. Trump undermines his credibility.
Everyone agrees that it would be very bad for a war to break out, and just about everyone hopes that the generals in the administration will prevent it. Kim Sengupta sums up a common mood:
It is the military around Trump, the sanest men in his administration, led by “Mad Dog” Mattis, who will, we can hope, stop matters getting out of hand. Their task is not easy; General John Kelly was brought in as chief of staff to sort out a chaotic White House and attempt to present a united voice. The early indications are that Gen Kelly did not even know that Trump was going to threaten war while on his golfing holiday.
The Trump outburst came when the US administration had started a “carrot and cosh” approach towards Kim Jong-un with some initial success. Just the day before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had made an offer of talks if North Korea stopped its missile tests and Pyonyang had responded that they were open to the proposal.
Also Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the United Nations, had achieved a diplomatic coup with a Security Council resolution, supported by Russia and China, to impose a tough new package of sanctions against North Korea.
Meanwhile the intelligence agencies had found ways of secretly tracking the advances towards a nuclear arsenal being made by Pyongyang. That information was leaked to Fox News, leading to Haley complaining about security being compromised. She then discovered, to her bemusement, that Trump had been busy tweeting the classified information.
Negotiating with Kim Jong-un will be a fraught and frustrating process. But the grown-ups in the US administration may think it would be wise to keep Donald Trump as far away from it as possible. Dealing with just one unpredictable demagogue would be hard enough.
It’s obviously tasteless to treat the ongoing crisis as humorous, but that’s never bothered Mark Steel:
If we’re to cease as a species in nuclear destruction, it will at least be heartening to know that it was caused by two of the most ridiculous people who ever lived.
Science fiction stories in which the world ends usually involve ferocious dictators who stand on tanks and roar about mighty empires, but this will be like getting wiped out by Keith Chegwin and the bloke off the Yorkshire Broadband advert. [For US readers: think Richie Cunningham and his wholesome friends in Happy Days.]
It’s as if we found out the dinosaurs didn’t become extinct because of a massive meteor striking the Earth, but when a clumsy stegosaurus got his fin caught in a tree, and all the others tripped over him and couldn’t get back up again.
Trump’s team are good at the threats, so his Defence Secretary James Mattis said if North Korea doesn’t comply with American demands, it will face the “end of their regime and destruction of its people”.
So not only will they kill the entire population, but they’ll end the regime as well, even if the sneaky North Koreans try to keep the regime going without any people by putting squirrels in charge.
The North Koreans retaliated by saying: “This is extremely getting on the nerves of the artillerymen of the army.” So this is another side of our annihilation we can look forward to: the North Korean press statements will sound like the instructions you get with a Korean kettle.
We’ll be told North Korea’s Great Leader has issued an ultimatum to US forces that goes: “Place army unit persons much here and there but not here to prevent loading capsule B engaging much with exploding sprocket.”
And of course there’s much in the same vein.
To go right to the heart of the current problem, everyone is fearful that POUTS will start a nuclear war on impulse. Christina Pletten looks at how easily he could do it:
President Donald Trump wears a small plastic card at all times, called the “biscuit”. It looks like a credit card, explains nuclear physicist Peter D. Zimmerman.
“Near the president, usually just a few yards from him, an agent goes with a suitcase called” the football “. The suitcase is all the equipment the president needs to order an atomic attack. The plastic card contains information that Trump uses to identify with, says the nuclear weapons expert.
Zimmerman worked for many years as an adviser to the US Department of Foreign Affairs. He was senior advisor to Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in the years after September 11. After Trump was deployed, he warned against the regime that gives the president the power to order an attack on his own.
“It’s a bad and unnecessary order no matter who’s president. There is also a system that takes it for granted that the president is able to handle his work in a rational way, “said Zimmerman.
– Are you worried about how far the current situation can develop?
– Yes, that’s cause for concern. Both Kim Jong-un and President Trump behave like schoolchildren who argue in the crime scene. It is not very grown up.
– Do you see the US command lines as a danger to the United States and the rest of the world?
– Yes, there is an unnecessary danger, especially for the rest of the world outside the United States. It is a system that belongs to the Cold War. And as said, it applies to all presidents – there are no exceptions. Today no security mechanism that can stop a full or mad or furious president from starting an atomic war, Zimmerman says.
Zimmerman nails the main worry the rest of us have: whatever one thinks of the US system of government as a theoretical construct, it is hopelessly ill-equipped to cope with a President who doesn’t believe in it. The fact that he is still in office after seven months is all the proof we need for that.
At times like these, it is often a good idea to dip into the blog posts at Il Giornale, because one can be just about assured of finding something contrarian, predicated around the idea that the Bush-era neocons are still controlling the world. Sure enough, the Piccolo Note series looks at this different angle, but has surprised me by being pretty rational. Even accounting for the conspiracy theory bias, this piece offers an interestingly believable perspective:
In short, the hypothesis of a war becomes less random. But, surprisingly, “even the old hawks of foreign affairs [Republican Sen. John McCain] are distancing themselves from the President’s belligerent threats.
His criticism has two goals. The first is to contradict the president, who is an irreducible opponent, as well as the neocons of whom he is a spokesperson. One way to challenge authority and authority in the eyes of his constituents, on which the president, despite the many bizarre, still has a great deal of grip.
The second and most important reason is that McCain (read neocon) is highly annoyed by the Korean crisis and above all by the president’s attitude towards this challenge. Indeed, for a long time Trump seems more than absorbed by the duel, both verbal and not, with Kim Jong-un on the other. He has been the focus of his foreign policy.
This presidential provision sees precisely the controversy of the neocons, who would like the focus of American foreign policy to be different, namely the contrast to Russia and Iranian influence in the Middle East.
To facilitate the task of the Syrian army is the success of the Hamburg agreement between Putin and Trump . The intent that led to the creation of de-escalation areas in Southeast Asia is in fact successful.
To affirm this in the most authoritative manner was Brett McGurk , the State Department man who has the task of guiding the opposition to Isis, who added that the success of that agreement can hope for a more global understanding of The Syrian War (see the Monitor at this point).
The evolution of the Middle Eastern framework is, in short, taking a different turn than designed by the neocon table. However, they know well that if the United States embarked on a confrontation with North Korea, they would not be able to “hold” in the Middle East. Despite their power, the US can not keep open such two complex fronts and global interactions.
In short, more Trump barks in Asia, less biting in the Middle East. One can not possibly think that the Korean crisis is false, because Kim-un missiles are unfortunately true and the risks of an unexpected conflict are just as real.
But for a strange endogenous heterogeneity, which must be recorded, this crisis is having positive effects on the Middle East. From here McCain’s ill-fated anger and his political ills.
Let’s move on a bit. It being apparent that we’re stuck with the orange thing for some time to come, people are having to learn to live with him. Buzzfeed’s European editor Alberto Nardelli has an interesting piece:
The current standoff is a dramatic illustration of the grave international concerns over Trump.On one level, the officials said, he is something of a laughing stock among Europeans at international gatherings. One revealed that a small group of diplomats play a version of word bingo whenever the president speaks because they consider his vocabulary to be so limited. “Everything is ‘great’, ‘very, very great’, ‘amazing’,” the diplomat said.
But behind the mocking, there is growing fear among international governments that Trump is a serious threat to international peace and stability.
“He has no historical view. He is only dealing with these issues now, and seems to think the world started when he took office,” a diplomat told BuzzFeed News, pointing to Trump’s remarks and tweets about defence spending.
Describing a meeting between their boss and the president as “basically useless,” they said: “He [Trump] just bombed us with questions: ‘How many people do you have? What’s your GDP? How much oil does [that country] produce? How many barrels a day? How much of it is yours?’”
“He’s not the kind of person you can have a discussion about how to deal with [Fayez] al-Sarraj [the prime minister of Libya],” the official added. “So you look for people around him, and that is where it’s a problem: The constant upheaval, it’s unclear who has influence, who is close to the president.”
A number of European officials compared Trump with Italian former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – but said the similarities end at their inappropriate jokes during meetings.
“Berlusconi wasn’t ignorant. And behind him he had officials and a whole government structure you could engage with,” one diplomat said.
The officials revealed that at international meetings, Trump has openly mocked his own aides, contradicting and arguing with them in front of other leaders. That has compounded the impression of an administration in chaos. “We can hear everything, it’s weird,” one diplomat said.
In the Irish Times, Kathy Sheridan has a different take on the POUTS style:
We take our little victories where we can. Take “snowflake”. Once a term of abuse to denigrate a whole generation and then extended by gloating, triumphalist Trumpsters and Brexiteers to despairing liberals, lefties, academics, women and anyone prone to empathy, self-scrutiny or to reading a whole article. But those feathery little ice crystals may be shape-changers. Call it trivial for now, but we may be witnessing the seeds of a reset.
It is almost a year since ardent Trump fan and Breitbart troll-at-large Milo Yiannopoulos brought down the house at a Houston talk by telling a protester that this wasn’t the “silver-haired snowflake show”. “Madam, I’m grateful to you for coming, but to be quite honest with you, f**k your feelings,” he declared, driving the crowd to hysterical heights of “USA! USA! USA!”.
F**k your feelings. Has anyone come up with a better summation of this casually abusive, entitled, I-blurt-what-I-think, speak-as-I-find, in-your-face-bitch era? Twin it with that hilariously unnuanced (fake Voltaire) quote, “…but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, give it a hashtag and ta-dah: #FYF. The motto of the age.
And there is the #FYF commander-in-chief himself, the towering, campaign-mode top dog now exposed as the whiniest, neediest snowflake of them all: “No politician in history – and I say this with great surety – has been treated worse or more unfairly.” He is “the reigning king of American victimhood… unceasingly pained, injured, aggrieved”, writes Charles M Blow in the New York Times. Blow’s theory is that Trump won because he whines; he makes feeling sorry for himself feel like fighting back and in this way is a perfect reflection of the new Whiny Right, in their emerging status as victims-in-their-own-minds.
In the UK, where Brexiteers are finally being confronted with their own stupidity, the stench of snowflakey victimhood is eye-watering. Of course it couldn’t be the blatant lies and vacuously emotional rhetoric of the campaign, nor the total absence of a plan, that is forcing the rethink by the messers-in-charge. No, it’s the political establishment about to commit a “great betrayal”, whines former stockbroker Nigel Farage.
As Farage heads for the pub and Trump for the golf course, we may be sure of one thing. It will not be them or their income bracket that will suffer the fallout from the snowflake id.
European countries tend to avoid the summer months for general elections, preferring in general to stage them when the kids are at school and most people are therefore at home. The next country to go to the polls will be Norway on September 11. Next week I will introduce their election properly (once I’ve found out what’s going on), but here’s a piece which looks rather gloomily at the current atmosphere (and features a rather fetching drawing of POUTS) by Hanne Skartveitt:
It is a sliding transition from democracy to authoritarian regimes. We have seen that in too many countries. Like Poland and Hungary. Russia and Turkey. The transition does not occur overnight. The United States is far away from becoming an authoritarian regime. But many of America’s foremost thinkers are still concerned about whether Trump will cause permanent damage to the world’s most important democracy. Does he manage to undermine the institutions, poison the system, and push out all proper people?
Norway is not the United States. But we also know some of the same tone that helped Trump win the election. We are starting to get a fragmented publicity, where it is sometimes more important who says something than what is said. We see that many people are closest to the autopilot. They agree with those they see as “their”, as “their tribe”, and take a similar distance from what comes from “the others”.
We can not take anything for granted. The cartoon imbroglio showed that we must protect freedom of expression, even in our own country. Women’s suppression in some minority environments shows us that equality is a value that must be defended, all the time. Also when there is someone from “another tribe” talking about the same values.
Yes, I think then Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre should apologize to magazine editor Vebjørn Selbekk, apologizing for the cartoons. Yes, I think it’s wrong that refugees in Norway travel on holiday to the country they have fled from. But no, I do not mean that teachers should report students who have been on vacation in their parents’ home country. And all of this I mean, completely independent of whoever thinks the same as me.
The more diverse and complex Norway becomes, the more important is that we gather about some good values that bind us together. And that people who come from countries where our values do not have such a central place are invited into a society where we agree on the basic values - and proud of them.
Much is done if we place more emphasis on what is being said, and less emphasis on who says it. That way, we may avoid the worst raids of the tribes community that are developing in Trumps America.
Apologies for the formatting of that. I blame DK5, naturally. The reference to the cartoons is because Vebjørn Selbekk became widely known in Norway when he in 2006 was one of the first—the first in Norway—to reprint a facsimile of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, as editor of the conservative Christian newspaper Magazinet (now Dagen).
I’ll finish with a translation of the text of a short article in Belgium’s HLN. I’m linking to the original because it’s mostly a collection of tweets which don’t get rendered via GoogleTranslate.
Passengers watched yesterday when the American White House in Washington suddenly passed a chicken with the same golden locks as President Donald Trump.
It’s not the first time the chicken makes her appearance. She was also present as a mascot at the March Tax March, a series of protests in 150 places in the United States that pushed Trump under pressure to reveal his tax return. That still did not happen.Taran Singh Brar says he is behind the action. He bought the chicken for 1.100 euros. “Trump is not willing to release his tax return,” he explains. “And he dares not oppose Putin.”
Trump himself was not a witness of the action. He is currently staying at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
I’m writing this 16 hours before it’s due to be published. On the assumption that you’re still going to be here to read it by then, have as pleasant a Sunday as you can.