A Drive By Glance at American Foreign Affairs

What with Hurricane Harvey, the Mueller investigation and the three ring circus of the daily Trump show (six ring…. nine ring?), short shrift has been given to events abroad of late.  For example, have you heard anything about Syria recently?   I hadn’t so I did some googling.

An LA Times piece this morning sums up the situation there as “Syria may be in ruins, but it looks like Assad ‘has won the war militarily.”   In short, there is no talk these days among national powers about “Assad must go.” Nations who had been involved with trying to make that happen have become distracted with their own affairs.    After firing a few missiles the U. S. has had little involvement other than in efforts to squash ISIS.

One of those distracted nations is Saudi Arabia, still struggling with a civil war it has abetted in Yemen and now in a diplomatic wrangle with Qatar, severing relations with that nation along with Egypt and a few others in the area, who accuse Qatar of bolstering instability in the region.  Under more normal circumstances that would be a big story, but we have too many of them already.   Interested in learning more?  Go here.

Back to Syria, the corker is that a few weeks ago the  “Damascus International Fair — once a showpiece of economic and technological prowess, attracting investors from across the Arab world and beyond — was held for the first time since being shuttered early in the war.”   I’m waiting for some friend to go there and send me a post card.

Moving on.  What about the Iran Nuclear Treaty?  Well, it is still holding, but Trump continues to want to find a way to scrap it.  Along with other treaties he doesn’t like.  Former  U. N. Ambassador Bolton has a plan to get us out.  Trump may embrace it or find some other way to break the deal.  If you want to dive into Bolton’s idea, check out this piece.

Moving on to Afghanistan.   The new U. S. policy there did make headlines briefly awhile ago, but really it isn’t a policy.  It is an open ended recognition that if we pull out we lose (and that locale becomes a haven for terrorists who might attack us again), so we won’t and hope the Taliban, etc., impressed by our resolve, will finally come to the negotiating table.  Reminds me of Korea, where our troops have remained for over half a century.

What a nice segue.  When it comes to endangering world peace, North Korea continues to appear the largest existential threat to those in the region and ourselves and maybe the entire world.   KIM JONG-UN’ s insistence on developing his nuclear missile program will have to change or a military confrontation seems inevitable.   Despite his ranting about fire and fury, not even Trump can believe that if it comes down to that the outcome will be anything short of horrific for friends and foes alike.

Things seem particularly tense now as is usually the case when we take part in joint military exercises annually with the South Koreans and others.   That always prompts an increase in saber rattling by JONG-UN.

But since we have our own saber rattler in the White House, it is impossible to know how something said or steps taken by either might cross some sort of line that triggers the war machines.

The talk continues to be that China must take a bigger hand in controlling NOKO, but that has been stated over and over for years now.   Can TRUMP pressure China enough economically to make a difference this time?    Well, if not, we are looking at a very sobering situation down the line that I will get back to later.

One thing I do applaud TRUMP for is the attention he has put on the Korean issue even if he leaves me nervous in the process.  Administration after administration has let the issue of a nuclear armed NOKO slide leading us to a point where there isn’t much of the slide left and we better slow things down or we will fall into an abys the likes of which is painful to imagine.

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Donald J. Trump: King or Criminal?

Since my last post President Trump has been treated like royalty in Saudi Arabia and  like a criminal at home.  Even more than usual the news makes my head spin in circles like that girl possessed by the devil in The Exorcist.

First, the Comey vs. Trump battle over truth which I wrote about in my last post promises to get real lively as Comey has agreed to speak in an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing after Memorial day.  He seems to have picked that committee because it appears to be the most bi-partisan in congress when it comes to the Trump/Russia investigation.

However, there might be a complication.   Since my post a “new sheriff” is in town.   Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General handling the Trump campaign Russia connection, has surprised many by appointing a special counsel to investigate this whole matter of the Trump team and Russia, not only as a matter of foreign interference in our election but for possible criminal activities.

He appointed Robert Mueller, former FBI director in both Democratic and Republican administrations, whose apolitical competence is one of the few things agreed upon on both sides of the aisle.  In his new role “sheriff” Mueller might play some kind of role in Comey’s testimony.

Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel seems tied to how Trump fired Comey.  Trump made the decision impetuously and then asked Rosenstein to write up a rationale (which few bought) which then Trump used as the cause for the firing (1).  Eventually, Trump came clean, but he tarnished Rosenstein’s stellar reputation by first making the firing seem like Rosenstein’s idea.  It is rumored that Rosenstein threatened to resign if Trump didn’t straighten the record.

Trump did admit the truth but apparently that wasn’t enough to satisfy Rosenstein.   Appointing a special counsel seems like Rosenstein’s way of fully grabbing his integrity back.   Take that Mr. President.

So, with his unique ability to make matters worse for himself, Trump now has the immediate threat of Comey to deal with and the threat of Mueller’s investigations down the line.

At least this gives many Republican legislators in swing districts some cover from constituents who want to see this Russian connection fully investigated.  Now the congressmen and women can say Mueller is on the case and we don’t want to interfere.

With all of this turmoil at home Trump must have loved Saudi Arabia where he was welcomed as a king.   Yesterday he gave a speech that seems to have tread tricky territory  quite well.   Sticking with the teleprompter of course.  There are many angles to explore, but I’ll save that for later.  For now let’s just go with TV commentator emeritus Bob Schieffer saying at least the address was “presidential” and not “the rant of some angry guy at the end of the bar.”

I know, I know…….   There is something very odd when our president acting presidential merits praise, but we have fallen down the rabbit hole into Trump world.  His acting presidential may be the most we can ask for while he and we are sorting out what his foreign policy actually is.

For a start I’ll dissect that Saudi Arabia speech in a future post.


(1).  This article shows that Rosenstein stands by that memo.  He thinks Comey should have been fired for abusing his position, but he resented being made the fall guy in Trump’s story (you have noticed, haven’t you, that Trump always has a fall guy, so he can’t be blamed for anything).

As for few people buying the memo, much of it chided Comey for his public treatment of Clinton.  That would be fine were it not for Trump cheering every step Comey took that cast doubt on Clinton, hardly a true reason to now fire him.

The Armada that is Working It’s Way to Korea

There is much one could say about “President” Trump’s almost first one hundred days, but most of it isn’t worth dwelling upon, which is good news to a one handed typist.

It is not worth dwelling upon because most of it has been empty boasts, unfulfilled promises, fitful threats and ridiculous assertions.  This formula worked well in the TV surreality of the campaign trail, but is falling apart like Cinderella’s coach racing towards midnight now that Trump is expected to actually accomplish things.

Most of this charade most of us can live with while it plays out, but Korea stands out as an exception.  Someone has aptly called it ” a drawn out version of the Cuban missile crisis.”   I was around during that crisis and fear abounded.   If there is less fear around these days, it is because we are more closely wedded to TV’s versions of reality than the real thing.  We have become anesthetized.

As a reality TV show Trump’s tough guy stance is entertaining.  In reality, Trump’s posing is frightening.  He acts like a bloviating bully whose foreign policy comes at the spur of the moment.

Call it gallows humor, but I have to laugh at the fiasco of the fleet that was portrayed as being dispatched to Korea, but actually was going elsewhere on pre-planned maneuvers.   AND THEN IT WAS GOING TO KOREA…..   as spokesman Sean Spicer “explained.”   As always not admitting a screw up.   Blaming the press for misinterpretations.

Leisurely heading towards Korea is not the same as rushing there, implied in Trump’s tough guy talk.  That’s like saying  police are responding to a 9-1-1 call, as soon as they finish their coffee and donuts at Dunkin’s.

Whatever.  I have to hope that charade – which a number of South Koreans running for the presidency there call “a lie” and reason not to trust Trump in the future – does not foreshadow a mishandling of a huge, immensely complex problem that Trump promises to “take care of”, as if he were negotiating just another real estate deal.

REALLY FOLKS.  THIS IS A DANGEROUS SITUATION.

Twirling Around in the Trump Tornado

Or is it swirling around down the rabbit hole?  Or toilet.  Choose a metaphor for how off balanced, how out of sorts, how discombobulated only three weeks of a Trump presidency has wrought.  Really?  Only three weeks?  OMG!   I don’t know if I can hold on for four years of this.

I feel the need to say something while questioning whether it is useful to say anything?   Since we cannot depend on Trump sticking to anything he says why do we spend so much time talking about all that he says?   The Trump administration brings to mind Macbeth’s reflection on life as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I imagine there is significance here or there, but it is a moving target that might turn around and shoot back.   Today’s biggest news flash is El Presidente finally recognizing a well established foreign policy doctrine that states mainland China is the “China” with Taiwan but a prodigal part, an unquestioned U.S. position for 38 years.  Until Trump indicated that was on the table along with the rest of our foreign policy.

So, today Trump officially recognized China.   Whoopi! 

A TV talking head called this a “sign of rationality”.  This is what qualifies as news in Wacky-land.   But it is news because people around the world have been unsettled by what policy Trump would have towards China, especially the Chinese.   In this one case, we can count on normalcy, at least for now, today.  A raft of international relief in an ocean of uncertainty.

What about all the rest of our foreign policies?  Will we know what they are by the end of Trump’s term? A jerry-rigged foreign policy will keep ’em guessing.  That’s what Trump likes.

Another news story today is that Jerod Kushner, Trump son-in-law and virtual ambassador at large, had chats with the Mexican foreign minister about The Wall, our shared economy and (who knows?) Ivanka’s clothing line?   The last-named is another hot topic today as special counsel Kellyanne Conway raised ethics flags by suggesting from the White House that viewers buy some of Ivanka’s clothes.

Untraditional foreign policy conducted by whomever and conflicts of interest seem likely to be daily reportorial fare.  While that would make sense in a normal presidency,  I think they are largely distractions in this one.  I don’t believe a majority of Americans really care about these things right now.  Even non-Trumpeteers don’t care because there is too much else to care about.

Trump supporters especially do not care and the more carefully argued the attacks on Trump for such things, the less they listen.   They want the story simple as Trump tells it.  To them complication is obfuscation.

The travel ban Trump has rolled out like a car with four flat tires still appears to keep his promise to increase our protection from terrorism, even though the so-called plan is mostly a show as I argued in my last post and, I would add,  heartless.  But it is Trump doing what he said and no matter how this turns out he will portray himself as a winner, or at least a victim of foul play.  A should be winner.

That’s enough babbling on.

It may be best to take the long view as expressed by Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser for President George W. Bush:  “Trump is an insurgent president leading a populist movement. He came in with an agenda that was disruptive and destructive — throw over the money changers’ tables. The next six months will see destruction, some of it creative and some just destructive. The question is what Trump will want to build after that.”

I wonder what will be left when we get to the “after that”.