The Village News & Views April 19, 2017
Wednesday Get Over the Hump Free for All
Good morning, Village Meeses! We’ve made it to another Wednesday. It’s Day 90 of the Resistance.
I hope you aren’t tired of the March for Science, which is going to be world wide on Saturday, because it’s the most interesting thing coming up and I’m a sci-fi geek which means I’m a wannabe science geek with not much training and no credentials.
And since I actually don’t have much training or any credentials, expect… you guessed it… mostly tweets and cat memes.
Are you starting to see a trend here on most Wednesdays?
Today’s post is a response to two different, but converging, prompts. First, as I mentioned in a comment yesterday, is my reading of Eric Foner’s Reconstruction Updated Edition: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, a massive history (that I’m less than one-third of the way through) of an era that continues to reverberate today. The second is the continuing criticism by Sen. Sanders of the Democratic Party, and the inevitable response on Twitter by Bros who continue to argue for “economics uber Alles.” The inability to recognize and address white supremacy with any coherence is an issue for more than just white supremacists; it becomes a problem for those of us who understand that the base of the Democratic Party is women and persons of color. In general, the Base (and allies) understand the problems associated with patriarchy and white supremacy, because it is our lived experience. We further understand that systems of prejudice don’t go away with a wave of the economic wand, and our history demonstrates that. The thoroughly ahistorical arguments of BoBers are troubling, but I am convinced that for some, the absence of historically-grounded awareness is a matter of ignorance, rather than malice. Today’s post is a compilation of quotes from Foner’s book (whether his own words or drawn from commenters during Reconstruction) (with a few tweets to add “color.”)
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.
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.
Since we have had enough biting our fingernails over Dump and his stupidity and Bernie and his big mouth I thought I’d post some funnies today just to try and get our minds off it all for a few minutes…
The MOAB in Afghanistan is a STUNT. Syria was a STUNT. From Monday: Trump has now realized Bombs=Media Applause pic.twitter.com/fLVI1USvqj
We gotta keep pushing forward as a party. A big part of our platform just became reality in ny. Hrc , Tom Perez and the rest are moving forward. Cuomo closing this deal shows center left dems have A PROVEN track record of getting stuff done.
Last night close race in Kansas shows what happens when pissed off dems show up. We fell short, but other districts aren’t as blood red. We don’t have to change who we are as a party and we damn sure don’t have to follow ANYONE who doesn’t think enough To join.
The Village News & Views April 12, 2017
Wednesday Get Over the Hump Free for All
Good morning, Village Meeses! We’ve made it to another Wednesday. It’s Day 83 of the Resistance.
Fair warning, I’m about to dedicate the larger part of today’s posting to a lot of tweets I didn’t write, which make a point that is probably, in this crowd, preaching to the choir. But I wanted to, and so you are stuck.
In the, “tell us something we didn’t know already… oh, you didn’t know?” department:
A year ago, I never knew, or needed to know, these words!
With the ongoing misdirection, distraction, and lies from the R administration, it seemed a good time to remind us all that what we’re seeing is predictable, and even expected, from our attention-deficient Narcissist-in-Chief. 45* has already shown that he has the attention span of a gnat; that he takes on the opinion of the last person in the room; and that shiny things will hold his attention…until the next shiny thing comes along. (This may actually save us from some of the worst, as he clearly doesn’t have the will or ability to focus on ongoing legislative battles.) In the meantime, it is clear that we, as a coalition against Trump, are learning how to wade through the bombardment of words; now, if only our media would show some of the sense that allies like #Indivisible folks have used and taught us.
We’ll start this week’s collection with the thoughts of Patrick Cockburn on Syria, since he knows more about what’s going on there than virtually any other journalist:
President Donald Trump had little option but to order a missile strike against a Syrian airbase after holding Syria responsible for that poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 80 civilians. He had criticised President Obama for being weak, slow and indecisive when facing similar challenges, so he could scarcely do nothing when President Bashar al-Assad appeared to breach the agreement in 2013 to hand over all his chemical weapons to be destroyed.
The fact that the US has taken its first direct military action against Assad is significant, not so much because it has done much damage to the Syrian armed forces, but because it may be repeated. Senior politicians and generals in the US have been calling for air strikes to take out or at last “ground” the whole Syrian air force. This option is now more on the table than it was previously, but that does not mean that it is going to happen.
The launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles that killed six people and did an unknown amount of damage at al-Shayrat airbase in Homs province in central Syria is symbolic. But it is a warning that is likely to be taken seriously in both Moscow and Damascus, because full-scale American intervention against Assad is the one thing that would deny them victory in the war.
Those who argue that the Syrian armed forces would not have done anything quite so foolish and against their own interests as to launch the strikes, probably underestimate the extent of the stupidity present in all armies. There is an old Israeli military saying, employed about a number of their commanders, which is apposite and says that the general “was so stupid that even the other generals noticed”.
As for the Russians, their military intervention in Syria has hitherto been highly successful because it has re-established them, at least in the Middle East, as a superpower. If they conclude that Assad was indeed behind the chemical attack – something they currently deny – then they will be infuriated that he has risked so much for so little. The Kremlin will be eager to continue to pursue parallel policies with Washington, something that dates back to 2015 when Obama decided not to oppose Putin’s military intervention on the side of Assad. This was a critical moment in the outcome of the war.
From Trump’s point of view there is a great advantage in any cross words coming from Moscow because they will counter accusations in the US that he is too close to the Russians. Democratic Party and media criticism, based on conspiracy theories claiming that Russian hackers determined the course of the election, will be deflated and Trump will have his first foreign policy success. The missile strike could do more change to the political landscape than in Syria.
Cockburn’s piece is strangely comforting, in that it says that what’s been done is roughly what any rational successor to President Obama would have done to advance US strategy in the region. HRC has basically agreed with the action, which suggests that she would have done something very similar, although she would probably now be in the process of gaining agreement from Congress. I’m somewhat less outraged than some others about not asking Congress before taking this retaliatory action: there’s a very strong argument that any President would have had to act quickly.
The coalition which is strongly critical of the action consists of Putin, Iran, Breitbart, Ann Coulter, most of Europe’s leading deplorables and Bozo Bernie, and he’s certainly lost the support of Max Benwell:
I first began to support Donald Trump when he forced Barack Obama to release his birth certificate in 2011. It was groundbreaking – no other sitting president had ever been made to do it. But then again, Obama was like no other president.
But with the air strikes in Syria, everything has changed. Trump isn’t the president I thought he was. I just wish I had the chance to realise my mistake sooner.
Everyone has their own personal principles. Your “red lines”, so to speak. Mine are as follows: you can do whatever you want. You can ban all refugees coming to America. You can try to cut healthcare benefits that keep millions of Americans alive, and roll back the regulations designed to protect millions from climate change. You can be sexist, racist and brag about sexually assaulting women. But don’t bomb an airfield used by a dictator for attacks on his own people. How can you support someone after that?
I thought he was going to be great. But in the end, he disappointed us all, and after showing so much promise. He crossed a line. And that’s why I can no longer support Donald Trump.
Ann Coulter herself could hardly have expressed it better.
Mention of Iran, though, brings up an issue which didn’t hit the banner headlines this week. Stéphane Lauer looks at the dilemma which Boeing have presented:
The US aerospace company Boeing, announcing a deal on the sale of sixty 737 MAX aircraft to Iran Aseman Airlines on Tuesday (April 4th), poses a major problem for the White House, which has the final say on this type of agreement. Will US President Donald Trump ‘s hostility towards Iran, and in particular the Iranian nuclear agreement signed in 2015 by his predecessor, fade in the face of The opportunity to trade with this country, and thus create jobs in the United States?
This is the first time this has happened since Mr. Trump took office on January 20. Boeing had already announced the sale of eighty aircraft worth 16.6 billion dollars (15.55 billion euros) to Iran Air in December 2016. But at the time, Obama, who had been one of the main architects of the nuclear agreement with Iran, still occupied the White House.
One of the counterparts to the compromise reached in 2015 between Iran, the United States, Russia , China , France , the United Kingdom and Germany consisted of lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Tehran, which agreed to limit its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and to accept international inspections to verify their application. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denounced this compromise, which he says leaves a free hand to a state that sponsors terrorism and destabilizes the Middle East. The US president has hinted that he could reverse this deal.
The problem is that, at the same time, Mr. Trump also promised that he would do everything in his power to create employment in American industry. This is indeed the subject of the announcement made by Boeing, the sale of sixty 737 MAX would be likely to create 18,000 jobs in the United States.
But the main obstacle is likely to be political . Part of the Republican majority in Congress does not hide its hostility to trade with Iran. On Tuesday, Illinois Republican Representative Peter Roskam described the agreement announced by Boeing as “outrageous” , saying it coincided with the revelation that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Tehran, is accused of carrying out a toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun , a town held by opponents of his regime. Mr. Roskam called on Mr. Trump to do “ everything in his power” to stop the sale of the Boeing.
Poor Donnie. To fulfil one campaign promise, he has to break another. Who knew that governing could be so complicated?
Another thing which didn’t get all that much attention was the visit of the Egyptian President. Dorothea Hahn comments:
According to the rules of the late 18th century which determine the course of presidential elections in the USA, Donald Trump has been validly elected to the White House. But his admiration does not extend to other duly elected government officials. When with Theresa May from Great Britain, Justin Trudeau from Canada and Angela Merkel, he seems like a flail that is not interested in foreign policy and, above all, seems to hope that the encounter will pass quickly. On the other hand, he glows in the company of tyrants.With them he smiles, distributes compliments and speaks of cooperation.
The most recent example of this authoritarian preference is the meeting with Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Monday at the White House. The man, who led the coup in 2013 against the first democratically elected government in Cairo, and since then threw thousands of oppositionists into the Egyptian prisons, was the first foreign state leader to congratulate Trump on the electoral victory last November. On Monday, he sat next to him in front of a fireplace in the White House and beamed, while Trump praised him for his “fantastic work”.
Trump’s argument for the demonstrative kindness to the autocrats is the fight against terrorism – especially against IS. In a region that has many other problems, antiterrorism is a modest common denominator. But even this reduced co-operation has narrow borders, which also shows itself in conflicting interests in Syria: Saudi Arabia wants the fall of Assad, Turkey wants Washington (and in Iraq) to give up its privileged relationship with Kurdish forces . And Egypt is constantly producing new supplies of jihadists through political repression and economic hardship in its own country.
The authoritarian preference produces images that show Trump with a certain long overdue foreign policy interest. But it does not provide a political strategy for one of the most complex regions of the planet.
Moving quickly on, Per Olav Ødegård has some thoughts on a couple of meetings involving China’s President Xi:
Directly from Donald Trump to Erna Solberg. No one can deny the president Xi Jinping in the Chinese century.
In the most important US-China summit in decades, it’s mostly about North Korea and trade. Behind closed doors in Trumps country Mar-a-Lago in Florida expected a day of tough conditions and harsh demands.
There will be more harmonious in the People’s Great Hall in Beijing in a few days, during the first Norwegian-Chinese summit since the Ice Age began in 2010. There is no time to take up the difficult topic, read human rights.
An inexperienced president who formulates policy with big letters on twitter meets an extremely experienced executive with high global ambitions.
The Chinese have had problems with getting a handle on Trump. Is he just a paper tiger or is he serious? Does he want cooperation or seek confrontation?
Mao Zedong launched the concept paper tiger in 1946 to describe the reactionary forces at home and abroad. A paper tiger, whether a leader or a nation, gives the impression of being big and powerful. In reality, the paper tiger is weak and nothing to be afraid of.
As part of the Trumps standard repertoire in the campaign, he was hostile about China. They had for years exploited the US and caused the US factory gates were closed.
– When Donald Trump becomes president will China know that America is again in the lead for global business and that there will be an end to currency-fixing and cheating, it was said at Trumps website.
Trump appeared like a tiger. It scared Beijing that after the election victory Trump broke a 37-year long American practice by talking to Taiwan’s president on the phone , and then question the one-China-policy. That there is only one China PRC credo.
In February Trump’s tone was differwnt. He called Xi and said that the one-China policy remained unchanged. Now the pressure was on to strengthen cooperation. In Chinese eyes resembled Trump, with contradictions and retreat, a paper tiger.
With Prime Minister Solberg’s mission to the Middle Kingdom is a delegation of 230 participants, including leading Norwegian business leaders who will be meeting a thousand Chinese counterparts. There are contracts on the table. It’s time for “business as usual”.
However, there was never any break in trade. Norwegian exports to China have increased sharply in recent years. But political normalization provides greater flexibility and at last negotiations on a free trade agreement can be finalized.
Norway defends happily loud and clear universal human rights. It is apparently just not doing it now. It’ll have to wait for another time, when dialogue is well underway.
With the risks it entails for Norway when emerging as a paper tiger.
Now some history. Enrique Feás notices some similarities between Trump and President Hoover:
In 1928 a large part of the population of the United States felt dissatisfied. Technology and globalization had put farmers in a precarious situation: motor vehicles had displaced beasts of burden and generated an agricultural surplus that exerted downward pressure on prices and salaries, exacerbated by the competitive price of imports, which were perceived as a threat.
In parallel, Mexican immigration was considered a problem. To the many Mexicans who decided to stay in the territories incorporated to the United States after the war of 1848 were added the exiled and displaced by the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920. Many worked in mining, industry or railways and favored American expansion, but with the crisis of 1920-21 began an aggressive anti-immigration campaign that resulted in the creation of a Customs Patrol on the border with the neighbor country in 1924 (the wall would not begin to be built until seventy years later).
Protectionism and the curbing of immigration were therefore hot topics in the 1928 election campaign. Herbert Hoover, a wealthy, politically-minded, somewhat arrogant mining entrepreneur (“who at forty has not made a million dollars is nobody”) He was able to interpret the discontent of Protestant white farmers and workers: during his electoral campaign he promised first to raise tariffs, second to stop immigration and guaranteed all their jobs and wages. Its electoral slogan was very simple: “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage”. And it worked.
Neither the expulsion of the Mexicans nor the protectionism helped the economic recovery, but rather they harmed it, delaying it. Between 1929 and 1933, US imports fell 66% and exports 61%, and unemployment rose to 25%. Herbert Hoover was swept in the following elections against Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who pioneered the New Deal and recovery, reduced tariffs and, after World War II, helped lay the foundations of a new world order based on economic and Trade and multilateralism.
Hoover left the presidency amid the hostility of the press and the resentment of the population, but over time he would be able to rehabilitate his image, doing advisory work for the Truman administration. Retired from public life, he died in New York in 1964, probably mired in remorse. Who was going to tell him that in the second decade of the following century another businessman turned president, faced with similar problems, would be willing to repeat the same mistakes.
I guess most of us are a bit young to remember all that, although it probably made a big impression on a then middle-aged future Senator from VT who will no doubt see himself as the new FDR to save America.
I learned this week that Mar-a-Lago was actually left to the USA by its original owner for use as a winter White House, but that the government sold it off because it was too expensive to run. So I’m going to finish with this fascinating piece from Mark S Smith:
DONALD Trump seems to be exacting some kind of sweet revenge on the genteel folk of Palm Beach, Florida – and they’re not happy. If you’ve never heard of this place, that’s exactly how the people who live here like it. Three drawbridges, which rise for passing yachts, isolate the town from the rest of the world and keep the riff-raff at bay – as one observer once put it, in case of insurrection on the mainland.
Welcome to America’s most exclusive community – “the island”, as locals call it. This balmy, sun-drenched 13-mile spit of sand, 90 minutes’ drive north from Miami, is a village of the privacy-obsessed and gaga rich. Around 30 of the 400 wealthiest people in the world own property in here, as do celebrities including Rod Stewart, Jimmy Buffet, Celine Dion, and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.
Each weekend the president spends here – five out of 10 so far – security protocols have closed bridges, clogged thoroughfares and blocked roads, essentially cutting the south of the town off from the north.
On top of that, small armies of protesters often show up when the president is in residence, as well as supporter groups wearing “Make America Great Again” caps and media crews. Not only has this added to the traffic congestion, but it has also been blamed for lost sales to businesses, dozens of restaurant cancellations and widespread frustration.
However, the most destabilising effect is the sudden abundance of unwelcome attention from the outside world.
These disruptions cap a private, 30-year war that Trump and the blue-bloods here, who dominate Palm Beach, have waged on one another. Now that he is the president, some here say Trump is relishing their current displeasure.
Most people here will tell you – even Trump supporters – that the brash, loud-mouthed, self-aggrandising New York property tycoon has never fitted in. He may be a billionaire, own Mar-a-Lago and even be the leader of the free world, but Trump has a bellboy’s hope in hell of ever garnering the kind of pedigree required here.
His response back in 1990, when asked in a Vanity Fair article if he was bothered at not being invited to join the exclusive Bath and Tennis Club (lovingly known as the B&T): “They kiss my ass in Palm Beach. Those phonies.”
The deeper you dig, the more ironic it seems that most Palm Beachers voted for him.
To better understand the often-unfathomable mindset of Trump, his strange relationship with Palm Beach offers fascinating insights.
Another resident, a former banker from Manhattan, is waiting for his wife outside the Chanel store. He says he has played golf at Mar-a-Lago and has also eaten there.
“It was very nice,” he says. “Trump likes to work the crowd at dinnertime and greet people. My wife thought he was like a glorified maitre d’ who imagined himself bigger than he really is – but I found him polite and very gracious.”
Clarke says she’s heard that one too from a few people here, the likening of Trump to a jumped-up maître d’. And there it is, the perfect encapsulation of a class barrier never to be breached by Trump, and by extension the nearly 500 members of Mar-a-Lago, who may not be welcome at the Everglades or the B&T.
In many ways, Palm Beach is Trump’s ideal playground. He doesn’t simply seek attention, he craves confrontation and this subtropical barrier island off the Florida coast uniquely fits the bill.
Morning everyone…We’ve been thrust into “Friday the 13th” becasue of stupidity. The stupidity of voters on the right and on the left….Because of narcissistic demagogues on the right and the left…Because of complacency and people thinking voting won’t do anything, so what’s the use…because of a media that has given in to greed and once again stupidity and becasue of a governing body in Congress that doesn’t know how to compromise on anything…It’s “fuck you society”, you’ll get what we give you and there is nothing yo can do about it in Congress..Prime example is what is going on right now with SCOTUS.
The stars aligned to give all of us something we never in a million years could have imagined..WE got a worthless moron as President(gag) and a worthless moron that cost us not seeing Hillary in the WH and is now trying to cost us the midterms.
Are all Dump voters bigots, racists, misogynists, deplorables..No, just ask Bernie…But they all voted for Dump who is everyone of those things and worse which makes everyone of the voters just as deplorable if not more so. That’s the biggest problem with Bernie and his crusade to get them over to our side. When they voted for Dump they were saying they were alright with those adjectives and proclivities that Dump showed, hell he shouted them to anyone that would listen. We listened and they didn’t or didn’t care becasue they agreed. Now here we have an idiot that thinks becasue,(just guessing)he thinks he got the Popes blessing, he’s always right and everyone else is wrong, even though he has no fucking idea what the hell he is talking about, that he can reshape the Democratic Party by cosying up to the deplorable voters while throwing everyone else under the bus.
That’s the one thing that Bernie has always been lacking…A fucking BRAIN…Same goes for Dump…hence interchangeable…