In case you missed it, the Confederate States of America (CSA) ceased to exist 155 years ago. It will not rise again. The current divisiveness over Confederate symbols, flags, and names for military bases makes no sense to me. As I have written in this space before, there was a time when I was a young boy that I bought into the culture of the “Lost Cause” — the idea of a chivalrous, valiant, and courageous battle of the southern states against the oppressors from the North. But, then I grew up. I learned history. I grasped what the Confederate States stood for. I was appalled that many of the military leaders of the CSA were West Point graduates who swore a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and that they turned into traitors willing to destroy the country to which they pledged their allegiance. And, oh yeah, they were losers.
Even today one will hear arguments that the war was really about “States Rights” (the right to enslave other human beings), or to preserve a “way of life” (based on the enslavement of other human beings) or to keep their economy from being destroyed (an economy based on free labor from the enslavement of other human beings). It doesn’t take much to realize what all the code words mean.
Arguments that the majority of Confederate soldiers were not slave holders but were merely protecting their families and homes doesn’t hold water when you realize the psychology of those times. While they may not personally have enslaved other human beings, they knew that no matter how bad their life might be, someone else was worse off and could be looked down upon as sub-human, abused, and treated as property — which made their own lot in life more acceptable.
The Defense Authorization Act working its way through Congress contains an amendment to rename the ten U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals and directs the Department of Defense to no longer name anything after anyone or any battle victory or any other landmark from the Confederacy. The Worst President Ever is threatening to veto the bill — putting in jeopardy the funding for our military currently fighting over seas — because of that provision. Ridiculous.
Let’s look at the facts. Of the ten bases, five were built and named during World War I, five during World War II. Each of the bases were named for a general from that state in an effort to smooth the way for annexation of land needed to build the bases to fight our wars. Local politics was mostly the reason for naming the bases, not some glorification of their military prowess or heroism. Indeed, several of those generals were among the worst in military history, wasting lives on ill-conceived and poorly executed battle plans. Losers.
And the monuments. Yes, let’s look at the Confederate monuments that are now slowly coming down. Of the roughly 740 monuments that remain, almost 700 of them were put up in the decades after 1900. Nearly 400 in 1900-1920 were established in cities and towns. The main source of those statues? A powerful and determined lobbying group we know as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were responsible for the vast majority of them. Ostensibly their cause was to honor their gallant fathers and grandfathers but they were so readily received because in post-Reconstruction America it was a clear signal to Black Americans that they may be free of their enslavement, but the rules and societal norms of the slave era had not changed. Imagine as the free son or daughter of a former slave going to the county court house seeking justice and outside the building is a monument to a Confederate soldier or to someone like John B. Gordon (for whom a fort in Georgia is named) who was later the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. Intimidation was the goal and it clearly sent a signal that there was no justice under any law for Black Americans, regardless of what may be written in the statutes.
The Confederate battle flag came into popular use during the 1950’s and 60’s. For example, it was flown at the state capital in Georgia beginning in 1956 and over the capital in South Carolina in 1962. Coincidentally, one might suppose, with the beginning of the Civil Rights movement? (Thankfully, they were removed after the shooting in a Charleston church in 2015, but not without a political fight. Last week the Mississippi legislature voted to remove it from their state flag.) Just today Mr. Trump got on Twitter and chastised NASCAR officials for banning the flag from their race tracks. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps only recently banned the flag from all of its bases, ships, aircraft and property.
Cries that the removal of these symbols of treason and oppression are attempts to “rewrite history” fall on deaf ears in my case. The only rewriting is the canard that these symbols are somehow proud vestiges of America’s culture and founding principles and that they reflect the American spirit. The only American spirit that they reflect is that of white supremacy. When armed right wing militia groups demonstrate in Michigan or Oregon carrying Confederate flags, they are not celebrating their heritage. They are purposely carrying a symbol of their hate for the “others” — anyone who does not have the same color skin as they do.
Under the First Amendment anyone can fly any flag they care to fly. If some redneck thinks that a giant Confederate battle flag flapping from the back of his pickup truck somehow makes him more manly, have at it. To me it only shows a heaping pile of insecurity on his part. Or ignorance. Or discrimination. Or all of the above. However, no institution in the United States government should be a part of glorifying a shameful part of our history. In my opinion, no corporation, sports authority or any other public entity should support that cause either.
We cannot rewrite history. No one is trying to wipe out our past by advocating for the removal of these symbols. However, we do need to write a fuller history that incorporates all elements of that past. As the cliche goes, we need to include the good, the bad and the ugly and to put it all into context.
Arguments ensue and demagogues rabble rouse over the question of “where does it stop?” How far do we go in understanding the flaws and failures of those who went before us? Outside of the hate mongering and fear laced rhetoric, it is a difficult question. Who should we honor and how should we do that are legitimate questions that deserve consideration through community input, scholarly research, historical context and the realization that no one of us is perfect. Perhaps we differentiate between those that laid out fundamental principles toward which our nation continues to strive versus those that worked to hold back progress and to deny freedom for all.
It seems to me that it is a no-brainer as to where to start. There should be no tax payer supported monuments or other honors for those that forswore their oath to the Constitution, turned into traitors against the United States of America, and fought a war to enforce the enslavement of our fellow Americans.
After 155 years, enough is enough!
As we all ponder the significance to our country of the many protests and responses to the horrific murder of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, some local issues with national importance may be overlooked. In the end, all politics is local as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once opined. In each locality and municipality we can work to improve our local community relationships and to ferret out the institutional racism that most citizens must now recognize.
Most striking to me in the video chronicling Mr. Floyd’s murder is the unabashed, even nonchalant way in which the officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck and held it there for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. It took my breath away to realize that the officers were equally unabashed at knowing numerous people were recording their actions even as those civilians pleaded with the officers to let him breathe. The officers just did not care. Clearly, they thought that there would be no retribution for their actions. There was no shame. While I firmly believe that by far the vast majority of law enforcement personnel are good people that do the right thing, in this case there must have been a climate in the Minneapolis police force that gave these officers a sense that there were no personal consequences to their actions.
In that vein, the climate in Washington D.C. is like a powder keg waiting for a spark to set it off. As in most cities, demonstrations have been quite peaceful, interrupted by periodic looting and destruction to buildings perpetrated by petty criminals and a small group of wing nut anarchists from both ends of the ideological spectrum. Yet, this is also a city problem that may have national repercussions.
You would not know that nearly all of the protests in the district, and indeed around the country, were peaceful if you only listened to the impeached Worst President Ever and all around vile human being Donald J. Trump or his side kick Attorney General William Barr. To me, the unprovoked attack on peaceful demonstrators assembled in Lafayette Square last Monday in the District, using rubber bullets, flash bang explosives and chemical weapons was a dangerous turning point. The only objective was to provide a photo-op for the president to strut around and hold up a Bible in front of historic St. John’s Church in a manner that seemed to convey that it was some symbolic object with which he was unfamiliar.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” — of unknown origin.
Many of you have been to Washington D.C., either as tourists or because you live or work there. Still, it is worth reviewing the local political relationships to totally understand the danger inherent in the current situation. Washington is used to demonstrations. They happen all of the time. Many of them occur in Lafayette Square directly across (a closed) Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. The Washington Police Department (officially the Metropolitan Police Department) is well trained and used to dealing with demonstrators. Here is the problem. The MPD does not have jurisdiction over the federal portions of the district. A plethora of federal law enforcement agencies have that jurisdiction depending on the situation. Additionally, Washington D.C. has a mayor and city council, but under the Home Rule Act passed by Congress in December 1973, any laws, regulations, actions by the city government and just about anything else that the Congress or federal government does not like can be over-ruled or thrown out. Indeed the federal government moved to federalize the MPD this week before vigorous political push back put that on temporary hold.
So here is the set up as I write. It is a very fluid situation that could change for the better or worse on short notice. The mayor and MPD in the district essentially have been shut out of dealing with their own citizens and controlling their own streets. The federal government, under the direct personal control of Mr. Trump’s very own Luca Brasi, Attorney General Barr, has taken over the city. As documented by the Washington Post, Washington is now an occupied city. There are at least sixteen federal law enforcement and military agencies with thousands of people on the ground. These agencies range from the obvious such as the FBI to the less obvious where agencies have been deputized and given unique authorities outside their charters to patrol the streets and make arrests including the Bureau of Prisons, the DEA, the ATF, ICE, Customs and Border Protection, to name a few. None of these organizations normally operate in the district to police the streets and many do not have training to manage peaceful demonstrations. More ominously, many have been recorded as being in riot gear without name badges, insignia or organizational badges. Never a good sign.
Additionally, 3300 National Guard troops from ten states are operating in the district. This is in addition to the 1200 National Guard troops from the district that are under federal control, rather than local. In the fifty states governors control the National Guard unless they are federalized in extreme conditions. The mayor of Washington has no control over the Guard coming from her own city.
Wait! There’s more!
1,600 regular Army troops from Ft. Bragg North Carolina and Ft. Drum New York are deployed in military bases within a 15 minute drive of downtown Washington. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared that he would not allow U.S. military forces to be used against Americans on the streets of the nation’s capital and ordered them back to their home bases. Within hours the president overrode that order and they remain in the D.C. area.
For what purpose, you may ask, does the city of Washington need 4500 Guard troops, 1600 regular Army troops and several thousand federal law enforcement agents? Good question, as the demonstrations in Washington have been generally peaceful and while large, not as big as in many other cities across the land.
There is one purpose and one purpose only. They are being used as political campaign talking points by Mr. Donald J. Trump so that he can say that he is “tough” and that the only way to deal with “domestic terrorists” (as of yesterday the FBI stated that they have no evidence of any terrorists among the protesters) is to “dominate” them. This while he sits in his basement and fortifies the White House — the People’s House — with extra defenses well beyond the grounds, and speaks of “vicious dogs” waiting to get at the demonstrators like some third world despot.
It is political theater.
But political theater with a cost. Not only does it trample the First Amendment rights of citizens to assemble peacefully to protest against policies — and yes, politicians — of which they disapprove, it significantly increases the mistrust on all sides and with so many elements at play it could easily blow up into a major tragedy where numerous civilians are injured or killed in the ensuing melee. It also puts law enforcement and troops in difficult situations that may cause retaliation and injury.
I put the heaviest blame on Congressional Republicans. Most cannot be found anywhere that will speak up against Mr. Trump’s boast to use American troops against American citizens. There is video available of reporters trying to get a comment from a large array of “name” Congressional Republicans. They should be embarrassed and hope that the tape gets lost. Most shuffled off while mumbling that they did not know anything about it. Some proclaimed they could not comment because they were late for lunch. Others just tried to pretend they did not hear the question. Yesterday, only Republican Senators Murkowski (Alaska) and Romney (Utah) finally spoke publicly against the use of troops in our cities. Shameful.
God help us if American Guardsmen or Army troops open fire on American citizens. I fear that we are not out of danger of that happening. In recent days former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, several former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and numerous Admirals and Generals have raised serious objections to the president’s boasts that he will send “thousands and thousands of heavily armed military personnel” to stop the “rioting.” All military personnel that I knew throughout my 28 year career in the naval service would join me in saying that we signed up to to defend the Constitution and to protect the American people, not to fight our neighbors in our cities’ streets.
There is no organized demonstration scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday 6 June. That is to say no one organization is planning for people to take to the streets like with the Women’s March. However, local media and social media are buzzing with news that people are going to come to Washington tomorrow in what could be one of the largest demonstrations so far. The MPD Chief is on record with his concern that it could be one of the largest the city has ever seen. More important than whether it is big, bigger or biggest is how the demonstrators and federal law enforcement forces face off against each other. Pray that it is peaceful but it has all the ingredients of a disaster.
As many of you know, I have worried for three years as to what lengths Mr. Trump will go to consolidate his power. His autocratic tendencies are well documented. He feels invincible after no one has stopped his relentless assault on our national norms and values. As an expert opportunist, it will not take much for him to make good on his promise to send troops into our streets to show that he is “very strong.” It helps him to successfully deflect from his total screw up in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the Army is deployed in Washington, what happens next? Where does he stop? How does it end? What if he loses the election and claims it was due to fraud? These are dangerous times.
I have faith in my fellow citizens. I have faith in our collective values. We will survive the struggle. In the short run, let’s hope that cooler heads prevail.
On Wednesday, the President of the United States defended his decision to abandon the Kurds in northern Syria as “strategically brilliant.” With scores of Kurdish fighters and civilians killed and approximately 200,000 people fleeing the fighting as refugees, he went on to say of the situation, “It’s a problem we have very nicely under control. It’s not our problem. They’ve got a lot of sand over there… There’s a lot of sand they can play with.”
Yesterday the president sent Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo to confer with Turkish President Recep Erdogan to stop the slaughter of the Kurds. Mr. Trump congratulated himself for solving a crisis that he started by giving a “green light” to Turkish plans to conduct an operation perilously close to ethnic cleansing. In reality, Mr. Trump gave away the farm and tried to make it sound like it was the cows’ fault.
If this is Mr. Trump’s idea of a “great deal” I want to sit down with him because I will walk away with everything that I want. Our negotiation with the Turks was totally one sided — theirs. Turkey got everything they set out to achieve when they crossed the border last week and the Kurds got nothing — maybe not even their lives. Fighting continues today during the supposed “pause” — and the Turks emphasized that it was not a cease fire, merely a pause in an ongoing operation.
In exchange for the Turks’ five day pause in the fighting, the Kurds got a directive to leave their homes and flee or surrender to their fate at the hands of the Turks. And the United States looks weak and foolish.
The Russians got everything they wanted in Syria. And we look weak and foolish.
The Syrians got everything they wanted. And we look weak and foolish.
The Iranians got everything they wanted. And we look weak and foolish.
Last night this is what the President of the United States said about the abandonment of our Kurdish allies.
“Sometimes you have to let ’em fight. Like two kids in a lot, you gotta let ’em fight and then you pull them apart.”
It is clear that Mr. Trump has no appreciation for human life or respect for anyone not named Donald Trump Sr. These callous remarks reflect so much about his outlook on, well, everything. He even seemed to endorse ethnic cleansing when he said of the Turkish attack on the Kurds that Turkey had to do it, because the Turks “had to clean it out.”
It is a national embarrassment, except that Mr. Trump knows nothing about shame.
Turkey got their “safe zone” in the former autonomous Kurdish region of Syria. In return, the United States promised to lift all sanctions imposed or threatened. Syria re-occupied parts of northern Syria without firing a shot after years of not having the ability to go there. Iran increased their influence in the Middle East and now has an uninterrupted supply line from Tehran to their surrogate Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as access to the Israeli border. Russia is now the primary power broker in the Middle East. ISIS is taking advantage of the chaos to make attacks in the region and coming dangerously close to freeing their thousands of fighters from prison camps. (Several hundred are known to have already escaped. Mr. Trump said that the Kurds released them just to embarrass him.)
Here is what the world saw of some of our country’s best fighters. Abandoned camps left so hastily that food was left out and personal items forgotten. Russian television loved showing the videos of their troops surveying that scene. U.S. troops are holed up waiting to be airlifted out. U.S. aircraft attacked our own former anti-ISIS headquarters after the troops left so quickly that officials feared useful ammunition, equipment and other assets would fall into the hands of other armed groups.
I am sure Russian President Vladimir Putin is tired of winning. He certainly is getting a fabulous return on his investment in the 2016 election.
Reasonable people could make a case for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria. It could have been done in a disciplined, methodical and diplomatically sensible way over time that protected the interests of the Kurds as well as our NATO ally Turkey. It could have included a viable resolution to the fate of thousands of hardened ISIS fighters imprisoned in the region. Instead we just bugged out and left the world the worse for it.
Other countries certainly took note. Allies, friends and enemies now know that the United States no longer stands by its word and that the president could wake up any day and undo decades of diplomacy on a whim.
Strategically brilliant? About as brilliant as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ceding the Sudetenland to Germany in 1938 and declaring “peace for our time.”
Another mass shooting, this time in Christchurch New Zealand, left at least fifty people dead and many dozens wounded, proving yet again that white nationalism spreads hate and leads to the vilest of acts. Let’s call it what it is — terrorism. For some reason, when Muslim extremists attack a Western target, it is immediately condemned as an act of terrorism. But when a white man attacks two mosques and kills fifty Muslims, it is considered an isolated act of a mad man. While no one can be held accountable for these acts other than those that perpetrate these heinous crimes, let’s not fool ourselves that this is solely the random act of a nut job. He reportedly chose New Zealand precisely because it is arguably the safest country on earth. His attacks on two mosques where he ruthlessly gunned down children, women and men were not random. They were intended to send a message and to instill terror.
Western intelligence agencies work together world-wide to follow and thwart such acts by ISIS and al-Qaeda and other Muslim extremist groups. And well they should. But there is to date, no similar intelligence effort to follow and thwart acts by white nationalists. Make no mistake about it, the far right extremists work together via the dark web and other social media avenues to spread their ideology and to share ideas about how to carry out violence. As explained in a Washington Post article this weekend, white supremacists who are motivated by a right-wing political ideology committed more acts of violence in recent years than any other type of domestic extremist. It is time to recognize that these are not one time random events but rather that these extremists are connected in that they are motivated by and share the same websites, political views and understanding of world events. They feed off of each other. It is a movement, both here in the United States and increasingly in other Western nations around the world. They are connected in ways we may not truly understand. There was a reason this evil person left a 74 page manifesto and live streamed his attack on Facebook. He wanted to share with those like him and in a way, to brag about his ability to carry out with action what others only talk about.
Be aware of the language. Words matter and have meaning. Many experts start with the French writer Renaud Camus and his book “The Great Replacement” which is often referenced by the far right. Indeed, this shooter named his manifesto in homage to this book. In his book, Mr. Camus argues that whites in Europe are being replaced by immigrants from non-white countries and most of them are Muslims. He calls it “demographic colonization” and talks about a “counter revolt” to drive them away. Mr. Camus now has a second book along the same lines called “You Will Not Replace Us!” Remember that in 2017 the white supremacists in Charlottesville marched to the chant “Jews will not replace us!” Other words like “invasion” and depictions of non-white immigrants as criminals, and disease carriers and generally despicable non-human beings fills the pages of the writings and postings of these far right nationalists. They come from “shit hole” countries. They want to take away jobs. Sound familiar?
According to the ADL (formerly the Anti-Defamation League) in the United States from 2008 to 2017 there were 387 domestic extremist murders. Of those, they report that 71 percent of them were committed by right-wing extremists. 26 percent were by Islamic extremists and three percent were by left-wing extremists. Please don’t give me the “both sides” argument. It is time to be realistic about this danger to our citizens.
One might ask where the real “national emergency” is taking place. It may be that the real threat comes from those trying to “Make America White Again.”
We need to move beyond thinking of these incidents as isolated. They are not. Until our leadership realizes that this is a real and present danger these events will continue. When asked if he thought the rise of white nationalists around the world was a growing threat, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.” To think as the president does about white nationalism is to either condone it, or it is the moral equivalent of having our collective heads in the sand. From Saturday morning to Sunday night, Mr. Trump put out 50 Tweets or retweets about everything from formulating the idea that the government should investigate Saturday Night Live for colluding with the Russians (?!) to attacking Senator John McCain. (Still.) Not one concerned the massacre in New Zealand.
Wake up USA.
With apologies to the old 1960’s era television show — the precursor to shows on now such as the Daily Show — That Was The Week That Was, or as it was commonly known TWTWTW, or TW3, we just experienced among the craziest weeks in recent history. Like the Daily Show, TW3 took actual news events and gave them a “can you believe it” comical twist. Unfortunately, there was nothing comical about this past week. If you were busy shopping or attending holiday parties, here are the highlights of what you missed over the past seven days. In some semblance of chronological order, of which very little exists today in this administration, they include:
- Late last Friday night a federal judge declared the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional. The judge said that since Congress lowered the tax for the Individual Mandate to zero, they essentially repealed the tax. In two Supreme Court decisions the ACA was ruled constitutional because of the tax — which is a right held by Congress. Since there is now no tax, the whole law was deemed unconstitutional, ignoring the long-standing legal precedent of “severability” which means that just because one part of a contract or law is deemed to be wrong, the whole contract or law is not voided. More on this in a future post.
- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned from the Cabinet to avoid investigation of his actions while in office. This now means that since the mid-term election in November, Mr. Trump has fired or accepted the “resignations” of the Attorney General, his Chief of Staff, the Ambassador to the U.N., and the Secretary of Defense. There are still countless White House staff positions, Assistant Secretaries, and Ambassador positions yet to be filled two years into this administration.
- It was revealed that there are currently at least 17 investigations of Mr. Trump, his organizations, and associates by at least seven different jurisdictions. (The Special Counsel, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Attorneys General from New York City, New York State and other states, and a “mystery” investigation that is under court seal.)
- Two independent studies reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Russians’ involvement in social media and efforts to help Mr. Trump and to hurt Secretary Clinton were more widespread than previously understood. It continued well after the election and shifted focus to undermining Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation of Mr. Trump. In particular, the Russians took actions to suppress the minority vote. Since Mr. Trump won the Electoral College by a total of approximately 80,000 votes spread across the three states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan it is probable, but not provable, that their actions changed the election.
- General Michael Flynn arrived for sentencing thinking that he would get probation. Judge Emmet Sullivan disabused him of that perception and threatened to lock him up. “I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain, for this criminal offense,” said the judge. Keep in mind that the judge has seen the redacted parts of the case that detail the full extent of the former National Security Adviser’s role in the campaign, transition and administration. The sentencing was postponed for 90 days to give General Flynn another chance to cooperate with the investigation. (Hint. Hint.)
- In an ongoing civil suit in New York State, the Attorney General of New York attained a court order for the Trump Foundation to shut down. The Foundation will distribute its remaining funds under court supervision. The suit continues. The N.Y Attorney General argued that the Foundation was little more than a slush fund for Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. All illegal activities.
- Acting Attorney General Whitaker refuses to recuse himself. The senior career ethics professional in the Department of Justice told the Acting A.G. that he should recuse himself from the Mueller Investigation. Mr. Whitaker decided not to do so. Remember that A.G. Sessions forever will feel the wrath of Mr. Trump for having rightly recused himself last year following the appointment of the Special Counsel.
- The president unilaterally announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria within 30 days. On Twitter. He further ordered that plans be drawn up to withdraw most if not all of our forces from Afghanistan. This decision was met with great joy and celebration in Russia, Iran, and by Syria’s despotic ruler. It takes the U.S. out of any significant role in the future of the Middle East and sends a message to our friends and allies that we cannot be trusted. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are the Kurds. Through U.S. training, equipping and our Special Forces fighting alongside, they have become the most effective fighting force in Syria and were our partners in driving ISIS out of the cities. We are now throwing them under the bus. The Turkish government (along with Iran) does not want the Kurds to be a strong entity in the region and indeed the Turks are planning to attack them as soon as we leave. Likewise negotiations to end the conflict in Afghanistan are now in jeopardy because the president wants us to leave. All of our opponents now know to just wait us out. We have lost all credibility in much of the world, but especially in Asia. We also undermine Israel with this decision as the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbollah and others can now consolidate their power, gain new territory and not worry about a U.S. presence in the area. This is a dream come true for Vladimir Putin.
- The president agreed to a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open until 8 February, the Senate unanimously voted to approve it and then he changed his mind and refused to go along unless he got at least $5 billion for a border wall. Ironically the approximately 800,00 federal personnel that will be impacted are significantly represented by TSA agents, Border Patrol agents, Coast Guardsmen (the Coast Guard is not part of the Defense Department but falls under the Department of Home Land Security) and others charged with keeping our borders safe. They will keep working but not get paid until the budget bill passes. For those that have mortgages, Christmas presents to buy, groceries to feed their family and other obligations, getting paid sometime in the future is not helpful to their current situations. Mr. Trump promises a “very long shutdown” if he doesn’t get his way. Remarkably, Representative Mark Meadows (Trump-NC) said that federal employees knew what they were getting into. “It’s actually part of what you do when you sign up for any public service position.” (Someone should tell Mr. Meadows that a well-run government does not shut down. Furthermore, the Republicans have controlled the House, Senate and White House for two years. Apparently that isn’t enough time to, you know, do your job and pass a budget.)
- Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned. Take a look at his resignation letter here. Those familiar with the way such things normally work, Secretary Mattis’ letter is a direct rebuke of Mr. Trump and his policies and his leadership. Through the eloquent and gentlemanly language, the Secretary basically tells Mr. Trump that he is full of it and an anathema to all that the United States stood for, for over seventy years. This is unprecedented in modern times.
- The stock market is on track to have the worst December on record since 1931 and the Great Depression. The reasons are varied but include the uncertainty created by Mr. Trump and his impulsive policy decisions, especially regarding trade and tariffs.
These are only the quick highlights. And only one week’s worth of news is listed here. In “normal” times this much activity in a month would be noteworthy.
Much of this will play out over the next few weeks and months. I am sure we will all have plenty to say about it as events unfold. Right now I want to emphasize what much of this means to us with respect to national security and foreign affairs.
Mr. Trump campaigned on an “America First” agenda. Nice slogan. As has been pointed out by many, this was also the slogan of the fascist leaning, isolationist wing of American politicians in the 1930s that refused to oppose the rise of Hitler and Mussolini. I am not hinting that Mr. Trump is a fascist sympathizer, I am merely pointing out that there are historical roots to the thoughts, and policies he espouses.
Given Mr. Trump’s use of hyperbole in everything that he does, many thought that “America First” was just a catchy phrase that he liked. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the words are more than a slogan. He believes them in the sense that it governs his views on trade, national security, military action and our role in the world. It is reflected in his decisions (against nearly unanimous caution not to do so) to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, his decisions to impose tariffs, and his desire to build a wall on the southern border. It is an entirely isolationist, transactional way of thinking. In this way of thinking we do not help or stand by allies unless there is something tangible in it for us — in Mr. Trump’s view, money.
This way of thinking is dangerous — to the interests of the United States and to peace and stability in the world. It cedes the playing field to Russia and China who are more than happy to fill the void.
Re-read Secretary Mattis’ resignation letter. He resigned because of those “America First” policies. This is what he is not so subtly saying. Mr. Trump is a danger to all that we as a country have held dear for over 70 years and a danger to the influence and power for good that the world used to count upon from the good old U.S. of A. Not anymore.
Expect it to get worse as Mr. Trump has systematically removed all of those in his administration that were not afraid to tell him “no” and stood against his misguided plans. The president acts impulsively and erratically and it seems that with two years of data, we now know that his instincts are either no good, or his knowledge of the world is sorely inadequate.
We are fast approaching a time where the United States government is run like the Trump Organization. It will be in the hands of Mr. Trump, his daughter and son-in-law. Period.
Likewise, the world — our friends and allies as well as our enemies — now know that the president is weak and ill-informed. The decision to leave Syria proves it to them. The icing on the cake was his decision to cave to the whining from hard-core right-wing pundits on television calling him out on not shutting down the government over his wall. It makes Mr. Trump look scared of losing his base and gives power to the likes of Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh. Along with Sean Hannity, those apparently are his real cabinet.
On the other hand, this is a season of great joy! Celebrate with friends and family. Remember that we are all God’s children and enjoy the gift of life. For a few days, we can put aside the worries of the secular world and revel in the power of the spiritual world.
Best wishes to all.
While many of us were busy with family and friends during the Thanksgiving weekend, spending time appreciating what we have and treasuring the value of those around us, the President of the United States took no time off from his argumentative, derisive, self-centered approach to his office. Whether in the White House or at his gold-plated palace at Mar-a-Lago, he hit on topics wide and far. He raged against the independent judiciary, taking on Chief Justice John Roberts in the process, he stated that no one should worry about the troops on the Mexican border missing Thanksgiving with their families, and many topics in between. His most troubling comments came last Tuesday when he released a statement about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the brutal murder and dismemberment of U.S. resident and Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
As you remember, Mr. Khassoggi was lured into the Saudi Embassy in Turkey and tortured, murdered and dismembered by a hit squad sent to do the deed by the de facto head of the Saudi government Mohammad Bin Salman, commonly called MBS by those that want him to be a positive factor in the future development of Saudi Arabia. Those that know the truth know that he is a reckless and ruthless autocrat bent on solidifying his own power as the Crown Prince in order to ensure that he has complete domination as the future king of Saudi Arabia.
Released on White House letterhead, this is the complete transcript of the statement, a statement that could only have been written by the president himself given the syntax, grammar and punctuation therein. We would be lucky if it only exhibited poor writing skills, but instead it runs counter to everything the United States stands for during the last seventy years or more.
The world is a very dangerous place!
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.
After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!
That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!
There is so much wrong, facts as well as policy, that it is difficult to know where to start. Let’s start at what should have been the beginning, the death of Jamal Khassoggi. Instead of starting with that fact, he does not address his brutal murder until the fourth paragraph, coming even after he has to congratulate himself on his trip to Saudi Arabia. To add injury to insult, he repeats the canard that Mr. Khassoggi was “an enemy of the state and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Even the Saudi government did not state that he was, after a trial balloon using that as a mitigating factor was vehemently denounced by multiple countries around the world. Mr. Trump brings it in as if it was some acceptable reason for murder. One of the president’s typical tricks. He paints someone negatively and then denies doing so saying that he didn’t say that, they did.
Even more troubling is Mr. Trump’s denouncing the American media as the “enemy of the people” and then using the term “enemy of the state” to describe a murdered journalist. No subtlety there, Mr. Trump just gave every dictator and two-bit autocrat in the world the green light to eliminate any journalist that they designate as an “enemy.”
As I and countless others have pointed out, the president grossly exaggerates the so-called “record amount of money” the Saudis will spend and invest in the United States. So far the Saudis only committed to spending about 14 billion dollars for a missile defense system. The other “hundreds of billions” of purchases and investments are only possibilities, ideas or something for an unspecified future. There is nothing on paper to justify the claims made by the president. Certainly, there is nothing to support the claim that any of it will “create hundreds of thousands of jobs.” The idea that the Saudis would spend that money buying Chinese or Russian goods and military equipment is, in a word, preposterous. Since World War II the Saudis sought out and continue to use U.S. training, equipment, spare parts, ammunition and logistical support for their military. They can not and would not turn to any other country over night to spend money on military items.
Once again for the record, Mr. Trump seems to be influenced by no other world events since the 1973 oil embargo when it comes to assessing the impact of Saudi oil on the market. The U.S. is a larger producer of oil than Saudi Arabia (thanks to fracking and shale oil, but that’s another story). The entire Saudi economy (and all of those claimed purchases and investments in the U.S.) depend on oil. They can impact prices, but not to the extent that Mr. Trump claims. Indeed the crown jewel of ARAMCO refineries, the national Saudi oil company, is in the United States in Port Arthur, Texas. Would they really cut off oil shipments to their own refinery? (The products from the refinery ship to many places in the world, not just the United States.) And oh by the way, the Saudis do not work “closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world.” They do what is best for them. Lower oil prices right now, according to economic analysts, are due primarily because the impact of the embargo on Iran was minimal (its oil is still mostly on the market), the world economy has not expanded as quickly as expected and thus demand is lower, and other economic reasons, not Mr. Trump’s relations with the Saudis.
I could go on and on debunking the myths and out right lies in Mr. Trump’s statement. You get the idea. Here is the worst part in my opinion. The President of the United States clearly states that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event” but that it doesn’t matter to the president because their money and the price of oil is more important than upholding human rights, American values and freedom of the press. Yet another signal to any dictator or would be autocrat that not only will we allow journalists to be killed if they are an “enemy of the state” but that if you pay us enough money, we’ll look the other way. Unbelievably, the president finishes his statement by saying “maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t!” (are we in the fifth grade?). In other words, it just doesn’t matter.
Anyone that reads the paper and follows this story knows that the preponderance of evidence is that Mr. Khassoggi was murdered and that the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States calculates that there is the highest probability that the Crown Prince was behind the entire sordid affair. (That is about as close as the CIA will come to saying he all but dismembered the guy himself.) Not to worry. Mr. Trump assures us that he personally talked to the Crown Prince and to the King and that they “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder.” Just as he accepted President Vladimir Putin’s vigorous denial that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, despite the conclusion of the entire intelligence community of the United States.
Once again, as happens in case after case after case with Mr. Trump, he refuses to believe what he does not want to believe and will look for any out available be it an opinion expressed on Fox News, a piece on an alt-right blog, or “the word” of ruthless dictators and autocrats. Merely deny any wrong doing and the best intelligence agency in the world cannot convince him of anything else. If one doubts that words have consequences when spoken by the president, consider that Mr. Trump continually belittled U.S. intelligence agencies because they were wrong about WMD in Iraq in 2002. This weekend the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia used that same argument to say that the CIA’s conclusion that the Crown Prince was involved in murder was wrong.
The real reason Mr. Trump will not come down hard on Saudi Arabia and especially the Crown Prince is because he likes them. More accurately, he liked the way that they played him during his visit to Riyadh and treated him, literally, like visiting royalty. He has a misguided view of the Saudi ability, or desire, to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They can act as a counter weight to Iran, but not without U.S. backing which could suck us into a war that we do not want. In particular, Mr. Trump frequently expressed his appreciation to the Saudis for bailing him out of one of his many bankruptcies. Likewise his son-in-law Jared Kushner has particularly close ties with the Crown Prince and his company was also intimately involved with Saudi bail outs in the past.
Make no mistake about it. I am not advocating for breaking diplomatic or military ties with Saudi Arabia. The world is indeed a dangerous place and we should use all assets at our disposal to promote our national security interests. That said, Mr. Trump speaks as if the Saudis hold all of the cards. They do not. We have vastly more leverage over them than the other way around if Mr. Trump had the ability to utilize the advantage. He either chooses not do so (because of his personal financial ties?) or is lost in the 70’s with a misguided view of the world, or he is incompetent.
There are numerous ways to make clear our disgust and dissatisfaction with Mr. Khassoggi’s murder. Here are only a few examples of actions we could take:
- Sanction the Crown Prince or parts of his world-wide investments and hurt him where it counts. The 17 Saudis Mr. Trump says we sanctioned include 15 relatively low-level security (hit?) men. Those assessed by the CIA as primarily responsible for ordering the murder are not sanctioned.
- Stop supplying the Saudi military in Yemen. The U.S. is providing assistance that, should it be with held, would severely limit their ability to continue the war in Yemen. The United Nations assesses the situation in Yemen as the biggest humanitarian crisis taking place in the world. Their calculations indicate that roughly 85,000 young children have died of hunger during the war. About 2 million are homeless. 22 million are in need of assistance, especially food. 1.1 million suffer from diarrhea and cholera. The war is portrayed as a proxy war with Iran to stop Islamic terrorism but in fact, Mohammad Bin Salman intervened in a civil war for his own purposes. Iran supports the opposition but the Saudi involvement is far larger, bloodier and indiscriminate in hitting civilian targets.
- Push Mohammad to actually get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and take concrete steps to help the Palestinians form a functioning government and offer substantive proposals for resolving the situation. Put some of that oil money to use providing for investment in the West Bank and to raise the average Palestinian out of the depths of poverty. (Fun fact: Many mid-level to upper-level bureaucrats in Arab countries are of Palestinian heritage. They make the countries run. The Arabs have no desire to resolve the situation because it is a convenient scapegoat for distracting their own people by providing a cause to rally around and to continue to rant against Israel.)
- Stop the Saudi economic and diplomatic attacks on Qatar. (The headquarters for U.S. forces in the region are in Qatar and it is the location of the largest U.S. air base in the region. Mr. Trump supports the Saudi assault on the integrity of Qatar.)
- Stop Mohammad from meddling in Lebanon. (Last year he kidnapped the Prime Minister of Lebanon while he was in Saudi Arabia, forced him to resign and held him hostage until world diplomatic pressure caused his release. Theoretically this was to put pressure on Iran and to lessen the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon.)
These are but a few ideas off the top of my head. I am sure the regional experts at the State Department and CIA could come up with many more. Instead, the United States capitulated lock, stock and barrel to the murderous whims of a 33-year-old autocrat in the Middle East.
The president’s statement is really “Saudi Arabia First!” Bipartisan efforts in the Senate to make Saudi Arabia feel the pain are talked about, but only time will tell if they can get a bill together during the lame duck session coming up given all the rest of the issues they have to deal with in the interim. Realistically, it could be months before the Congress takes action, if at all. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince goes his merry way having learned the lesson that he can con Mr. Trump out of anything with a little flattery and some money.
The President of the United States betrayed American values. He pretends that the facts are unknowable but asserts that they are irrelevant in any case. He bases his decision on a widely discredited claim that they are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. and keeping oil prices low, when in fact, the Saudis are espousing a cut in their oil production in order to try to increase prices. He disparages the victim by falsely hinting that he was a member of some terrorist network, a claim originally floated by Mohammad in a phone call to the White House and then denied when the world condemned the allegation as totally false. (Parts of Mr. Trump’s statement were clearly word for word restatements of things the Saudi Crown Prince told him.) He belittles and ignores the best analysis by his own intelligence agencies. He shows the worst of his talents and little disposition to take appropriate actions if it does not meet his personal needs, desires and perceptions. Again, Mr. Trump demonstrates that under his leadership, the United States is weak.
In short, Mr. Trump sold out the United States and our values. Dictators and autocrats around the world now know that they can kill journalists with impunity if they flatter the president and pay enough money.
The United States is fast losing its place in the world as a leader. Congress must act to rectify this situation and to set the standard that we will not forsake our values or place in the world for a few dollars more.
“You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, ‘Really, we’re not supposed to use that word?’ You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word. Use that word!”
— Donald J. Trump at a political rally in Houston, 22 October 2018
And there we have it.
The President of the United States is proudly using a word that is full of historic negative connotations. Mr. Trump stated yesterday in response to a reporter’s question that he didn’t know why people were upset with his use of the word and implied that it meant the same as “patriotism.” It is not the same, and anyone with any sense of history knows that. While the president is famously ill-informed, and proud of it, I have no doubt he knew exactly what he was saying. His own words tell us that: “we’re not supposed to use that word.”
Nationalism: Loyalty and devotion to a nation. Especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or groups.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Patriotism: Love for or devotion to one’s country.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Note the difference, and it’s a big one. One espouses devotion to a nation, one to a country. While we say that we “are one nation under God” we are really a country, not a nation in the sense that it is used in these definitions. In this sense a nation is a group of people with a common language, ethnicity, and an outlook that manifests in a common culture. In other words, it is exclusive of those that do not share the same traits.
Nationalism is a relatively recent development in history, coming into wide-spread usage starting in the 1800s and resulting in the founding of nation-states in place of empires or kingdoms that had dominated previously. The idea came of age in the 20th century and was one of the key causes leading to World War I and World War II. In truth, nationalism can be a positive force, such as in the end of colonialism and the emergence of many new countries from nations across Africa, Latin America and Asia, or it can be a negative force such as the rallying cry of fascist dictators and others. Vladimir Putin is using Russian nationalism to consolidate his power and as an excuse for the annexation of Crimea and for threats against the Baltic States, especially Estonia which has a high percentage of ethnic Russians in its population.
E Pluribus Unum. “Out of many, one.” Our country’s motto reflects the fact that our country is made of people from around the world, from many nations, that have come together to form a “more perfect union.” We put aside our devotion to the nation of origin and pledge our allegiance to a new country. This is what made, and keeps, America great and is significantly different from what it means to be French, or Spanish, or Chinese.
The history of nationalism in this country is sordid. Historically it means a belief in a country dominated by white Christian males and is most closely associated with white nationalism. The march in Charlottesville Virginia last year was a white nationalist rally which included overt neo-Nazi groups. Mr. Trump opined that there were “good people on both sides” thus validating the cause of those groups, at least in their eyes. Nationalism means that one promotes one’s own culture and values ahead of those of others. Nationalists do so not just because they believe in them but because they believe that their culture and values are inherently better than those of any other one’s or any other nation’s culture and values. Thus, it means that in the context of the Charlottesville rally, for example, that white interests should supersede those of any other group in the U.S.
In the 1930’s the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party used nationalism to legally rise to power in a republican Germany. The rallying cry was that German culture and ethnicity was superior to any other nation’s and therefore Germans should dominate the world.
In the U.S., mainstream politicians and citizens celebrate our diversity. We have a history of people of different ethnic groups, nationalities, religions, cultures and customs coming together in a common cause. It is what makes for American Exceptionalism which is, well, exceptional because we are one of the few, if not the only, country in the world that not only believes in our diversity, but celebrates it.
Mr. Trump claimed yesterday in response to a question about white nationalism during a press availability in the Oval Office, as to whether he intended his remarks to encourage white nationalists. He responded incredulously to the question and said “no, I’ve never heard that theory about being a nationalist.”
Where are the patriots? Who is standing up and saying, “no, Mr. President, we are not nationalists, we are patriots.” We do not celebrate the demonization of other ethnic groups or nationalities. Patriots celebrate our country and are proud of the fact that from our various backgrounds we come together in common purposes. We are a beacon to the world. Extinguishing that beacon through a misguided belief that we are somehow being “screwed” by “others” will not improve the life of any American. Should we follow the path that Mr. Trump espouses we lose the essence of what has served us so well for so long. Anger and fear are the basic ingredients of a “nationalist” ideology. We are better than that.
As the evidence of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s (MBS) involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi continues to grow, the President of the United States and the U.S. Secretary of State expand their dissembling and cover up on behalf of the leadership of Saudi Arabia.
It is embarrassing in one sense and appalling in every way.
Whether or not Prince Mohammad thought that he would be able to murder someone on foreign soil with impunity and without consequence or not, with the complicity and direct efforts of the President of the United States he will get away with it. The president trotted out his tag line that worked so well in the nomination and confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh by accusing the press and world leaders elsewhere of jumping to conclusions. Or as he said in an interview with the Associated Press, “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way.”
The preponderance of evidence, including from Turkey our NATO ally, indicates that the Saudis certainly did murder Mr. Khashoggi and given the way the Saudis govern, it is preposterous to stipulate that Saudi hit men that are known to work directly for the Crown Prince would have gone “rogue” and killed him without the Prince’s knowledge.
One element that indicates the president is involved in a cover up is the fact that the U.S. intelligence agencies were directed not to follow through with scheduled briefings for the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning events surrounding the murder. As Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn), the Chairman of the committee told reporters yesterday, the administration has “clamped down” on providing information to the committee and cancelled a scheduled briefing on Tuesday. Senator Corker went on to say that before his committee’s oversight of the Executive Branch was blocked, that the intelligence he had seen indicates that Mr. Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudis. He added, “everything points to MBS. This could not have happened without his approval.”
Once again, this administration is driven by money and money alone. Apparently they are not knowledgeable enough or competent enough to figure out how to condemn the actions resulting in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi without breaking off relations with Saudi Arabia, an important, if unreliable, friend in the Middle East. The Saudis (and their money) are important players in the region and can be a counter to Iran. Diplomacy and foreign relations require skill and knowledge of the trade craft involved in the push and pull of world events. Evidently this administration cannot pull it off.
For example, back in the day I spent a lot of time in the Middle East and in dealing with regional issues, including in Saudi Arabia. The Bedouin tradition is one of extreme hospitality, based on their origins as nomads in the desert where survival might depend on help from others. This ingrained hospitality has carried over to modern Saudi Arabia. Part of that tradition is to never say “no.” They don’t. But it doesn’t take long to figure out that not saying “no” doesn’t mean “yes.” An apocryphal but not too unrealistic negotiation would go something like this: “Will you commit to buying $110 billion in U.S. arms?” “It would be a great honor.” “So that means you will?” “Inshallah!” (God willing!) And so it goes. One walks away thinking that there was a deal until it comes time to put ink to paper.
The president is being hoodwinked if he thinks that the value of the Saudis to U.S. security interests is so immense that it outweighs human rights, and thus he needs to cover up the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. They need us more than we need them. Some examples. The U.S. is now a net exporter of oil, thanks to the expansion of the commercial viability of shale oil. We do import oil, but our biggest supplier is Canada. Oil is a fungible commodity, the Saudis need to sell their oil as their economy is nearly entirely dependent on it. They aren’t going to stop. The arms sales the president is so afraid of losing constitute a small percentage of the U.S. defense industry. More to the current point, most of the Saudi’s military equipment is U.S., especially their aircraft and the munitions they carry. They will need U.S. spare parts and maintenance contracts for years to come. They will not cut those off as it would be against their own best interests especially as they continue to interfere in the war in Yemen. Should war break out between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Saudis are toast without us. And so on. One gets the idea. The Saudis need us economically and militarily more than we need them. We hold most of the cards and a skillful administration would know how to parlay them into the Saudi’s taking accountability for a crime against humanity. Diplomatically and through intelligence sharing they can provide the U.S. some real value. However, the president argues in terms of the bottom line — money — and not in terms of their other value added.
Apparently, human rights has no place in U.S. foreign policy, a break in our traditions since World War II. That is not to say that the U.S. hasn’t looked the other way in the past in order to attain our national interests. We have, in some truly shameful circumstances. Rarely, if ever, however, has the president actively worked in favor of a foreign power to cover up a heinous crime.
Perhaps there are other motivations such as personal financial gain for the president and his family?
Over the last 18 months the U.S. has given the dictators of the world a license to kill. In addition to the unfolding events in Saudi Arabia, the president has shrugged over Russian president Vladimir Putin ordering a poison attack on British soil, congratulated Philippine president Duterte’s hit squads killing thousands of people on the streets in his war on drugs, congratulated China’s president Xi on changing the succession of government to become President for Life, as he did with Turkey’s president Erdogan who undermined democracy in his own country and installed himself as a de facto autocrat, and of course expressed his admiration for the world’s current most ruthless dictator North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. As the President of the United States said about the Great Leader, “We went back and forth, then we fell in love. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they are great letters. We fell in love.”
Meanwhile he trashes our allies in the U.K,, Germany, Japan, Canada and the entirety of NATO, to name a few of the nations we actually depend upon .
Let’s look from the outside in. Were I sitting in North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia or a host of other nations led by autocrats and dictators, I would conclude that all one needs to do to silence and paralyze the United States is to impress the president on how wonderful he is and to put some money on the line. After that, anything goes. “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.” Maybe those despots just “gotta use some Tic Tacs” to get what they want.
Of course poor people in Africa or Latin America are a direct threat to the survival of the United States. I guess that’s why today the president threatened to put the military on our border with Mexico to stop the “invasion” coming from Central America.
Something is upside down in our country.
Roughly two weeks ago Jamal Khashoggi disappeared while visiting the Saudi Arabia Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Mr. Khashoggi, born and raised in Saudi Arabia, was a frequent critic of the Saudi regime who was living in exile as a permanent green card holder in the United States and was a Washington Post journalist. Mr. Khashoggi entered the consulate, as seen on security cameras outside the building, but was never observed coming out and has not been heard from since. The Saudis claim that he left the Consulate in fine condition but can provide no proof and cannot say where he may be. The Turkish government states that it has hard evidence — reportedly audio and possibly video recordings — that Mr. Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured, murdered and dismembered inside the Consulate. The Turks report that a fifteen man “hit squad” flew in and out of Turkey from Saudi Arabia on two private aircraft before and after the alleged murder.
This incident is getting the full attention of both political parties in the United States Senate as well as freedom loving nations around the world. Demands for answers from the Saudis and a full investigation into the disappearance of a respected journalist are growing. For those nations that care about human rights, this is an egregious and blatant act of state sponsored terrorism against an innocent civilian conducted on the foreign soil of a NATO ally. It cannot be tolerated.
While acknowledging that a state ordered murder of Mr. Khashoggi (“if it’s true”) would be a problem (“We don’t like it. We don’t like it even a bit.”), the President of the United States has been clear over the last several days that restricting arms sales to Saudi Arabia should not be on the table. Or as he said on Thursday, ” I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion — which is an all time record — and letting Russia have that money and letting China have that money.” (Mr. Trump keeps touting the $110 billion arms deal, but analysts say that the Saudis have only committed to about $10 billion and it is debatable that the Saudis will ever buy the full $110 billion as their military cannot assimilate all of those weapons.) So we know that Mr. Khashoggi’s life is not worth $110 billion or even $10 billion. What is it worth?
This murderous development significantly impacts U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The Trump Administration, through the president’s son-in-law Mr. Jared Kushner, has put all of their Middle East policy eggs in the Saudi basket. The reasons are many, varied and complicated, but if you can’t tell the players without a score card, a quick summary follows.
The modern state of Saudi Arabia was created in 1930 under King Abdul-Aziz bin Saud. The relationship with the United States began following the discovery of oil in the kingdom in 1938 and dates to a meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdul-Aziz aboard the USS Quincy while anchored in the Suez Canal. A hand shake between the two took on the force of a treaty. The kingdom would supply oil to the U.S. in exchange for security and protection guarantees from the U.S. That same basic agreement is still in force today, but with greater complications.
The kingdom was ruled for most of its existence by one of the sons of King Abdul-Aziz. As one half-brother died, another would succeed him as king. For all of this time, the main focus of Saudi policy was, and is, the preservation of the rule of the royal family (which now numbers in the thousands with uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc. that can trace lineage back to King Abdul Aziz) and their wealth. As the brothers died off, there was a power struggle within the family as to how succession would be passed down for the future. Currently, the winner of that struggle is Mohammad bin Salman, at 33 the current Crown Prince, heir apparent and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia as his father, King Salman, the nominal ruler of the kingdom is reported to be in poor health.
Crown Prince Mohammad, commonly referred to as MBS, is also good friends with Mr. Kushner. Both are young and apparently bonded in the days following the election in 2016. Many thought originally that Prince Mohammad would be a reformer within the kingdom and bring it into the 21st century through economic and social reform. Recently, analysis of his efforts indicates that he is a good public relations man in pushing the appearance of reform, but in fact his efforts are focused on establishing himself as the autocratic head of state and in consolidating power for himself, regardless of who gets hurt in the process. For example in 2017 he had over 40 members of the royal family and senior government officials arrested and imprisoned along with roughly 200 other businessmen, bankers, broadcasters and others. Ostensibly this was to rid the government of corruption but it is widely viewed as a test of his power and an attempt to eliminate any competition for his leadership. Most were eventually released after paying “fines” (read bribes) to the Crown Prince worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It is widely believed that Mr. Kushner may have shared highly classified intelligence with the Prince prior to the purge naming those in the country that opposed his taking the reins .
Mr. Kushner sees MBS as the key to countering Iran in the region and as the key to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The prince positioned himself to be a “player” but so far the Saudis have not delivered on their promises (as anyone knowing how things work in that area would know) even as the U.S. has delivered on their end, most controversially by supporting the Saudis with arms and intelligence during their ongoing military involvement in Yemen.
Additionally, and not surprisingly, both the Trump and Kushner family business organizations have long-standing and wide-spread business involvement in Saudi Arabia. When Mr. Trump was in serious financial trouble in the 1990s, for example, he sold condos, a hotel, parts of his business and his yacht to Saudis to raise money. It is rumored that the Saudis saved the Kushner family business by taking on the loan for a prominent New York land mark. There are other business connections that have been detailed in many venues, but without the release of a certain president’s tax returns and other normally provided financial information, the true extent of the deals cannot be determined. Oh by the way, the biggest spender at the Trump Hotel in Washington DC since the election is the Saudi government.
Mr. Khashoggi wrote often and furiously about the corruption in the Saudi royal family, their business ties and the efforts by Prince Mohammad to take control of the country. Or as he said last year to The New Yorker, “It’s an interesting form of dictatorship that is being created in Saudi Arabia. MBS is now becoming the supreme leader.”
Mr. Khashoggi would never have been murdered without the knowledge of Prince Mohammad.
And all of this is the tip of the iceberg. Our relationship is a complicated one, on all levels. There are advantages and disadvantages to working with the Saudis. The alleged murder of Mr. Khashoggi puts a lot of the national and personal goals of this administration in peril should the president choose to act on punishing the Saudis. The Senate is invoking the Global Magnitsky Act based on a December 2016 law that invokes sanctions against anyone or any government implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world. The president is resisting. (Ironically the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Mr. Trump, Jr. and the Russians concerned the Magnitsky Act which at the time involved sanctions against Russians committing human rights abuses. In December of that year it expanded to a global scale.)
Mr. Trump knows he must act tough, but my bet is that he hopes that it all blows over. Today he reportedly spoke to King Salman, the titular head of Saudi Arabia, who assured him that the Saudis had nothing to do with Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. He flatly denied it. Or as Mr. Trump told reporters today, “It wasn’t like there was a question in his mind. The denial was very strong.” (As one recalls, anyone or any government that strongly denies a murder by chemical attack — hello Russia — or preying on young girls — hello Roy Moore — or anything else is believed by Mr. Trump because they are “very strong” in their denials.)
To add injury to insult, Mr. Trump added to his statement by saying that “It sounded to me like it could have been rogue killers. Who knows?” Indeed. Can you say “cover up”?
I can see it developing already. No official U.S. government action will ensue as Mr. Trump says we can’t be sure who did it. The Saudis deny it. Very strongly. It could have been rogue killers. We cannot give up billions in arms sales. Too bad. I feel bad for his family. Hey, look over there!
And we move on.
There was a time when the U.S. cared about and set an example for human rights, freedom of the press and other values we held dearly as a nation. Now, not so much. Apparently all of our relations are now transactional and only get fully considered based on the financial bottom line. It only matters how much money is involved, not what is right.
Apparently a human life isn’t worth anything to the United States anymore.
Do not let Mr. Trump’s signing of an Executive Order on the spur of the moment on Wednesday lead you to believe that the problem of immigrant children being separated from their parents is solved. It is not. The soul of America continues to be at stake.
First, most legal scholars opine that an Executive Order was not necessary. No laws changed and no policy changed except that immigrant families would not automatically be separated. That could have been accomplished merely by a telephone call to the Secretary of Homeland Defense. The Order and signing ceremony was for show.
Second, the Order did not “fix” anything. There is a continuing Trump Administration created crisis on the border. As I stated in this space earlier this week, the crisis was created in order to force Congress to build Mr. Trump’s wall and as a hoped for deterrent to future immigrants. It back fired.
Third, a careful reading of the Order (found here) reveals that mostly all that changed is that now families will be detained together. The ramifications of that are complicated, as I will try to explain in a moment. It also gets the military involved in that it directs the Secretary of Defense “to provide to the Secretary, upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law.” One more mission for the military, which should not be in the business of taking care of immigrants, and by law (Posse Comitatus) cannot enforce the law.
(As an aside and a clue to how haphazard this process is in the White House, the title of the Order was “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Seperation.” Apparently no one owns spell checker in this Administration.)
Fourth, Mr. Trump continues to blame “the Democrats” for the state of affairs. Huh? The Republican party controls the White House, both Houses of Congress, and arguably, the Supreme Court. Yesterday, an immigration bill in the House of Representatives, that needed only Republican votes to pass, went down to defeat. A second bill addressing immigration was to be voted on yesterday but it has been deferred to next week — if it comes to a vote at all — because there were not enough Republican votes for it to pass.
The real heart of the matter however is this, roughly 2300 children are in the United States after being removed from their parents’ custody over the last six weeks and no one can confidently say that they know where they all are.
Republican and Democrat politicians, from Senators to Representatives to Governors to Mayors have tried to visit some of the known locations where the children are held in detention and they have not been allowed in. It is no surprise that the media has not been allowed to independently verify the condition of the facilities and the children. Our elected representatives are told by the federal government that they must put in a request to make any visits and that it will take about two weeks to process their applications to visit. A lot of cover up can take place in two weeks. What happened to oversight by our elected officials?
Where are the children?
As I write, they were moved to detention centers in fifteen states, in many cases thousands of miles from where the parents are held, including in my home county. One child in custody in our county is 18 months old. Others are not much older. Not understood by many people is that each of these children, with or without their parents, can be deported or ask for asylum. How does an 18 month old or even a six-year-old go find an attorney and go to court to ask for asylum?
Earlier the Trump Administration tried to use the young people here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA — or more familiarly the “Dreamers”) as a bargaining chip for the wall. The courts short-circuited that attempt. Then he tried using innocent children as a bargaining chip to get the wall. That was stopped — for now — by American citizens expressing their uneasiness with such an inhumane action. The next bargaining chip will be entire immigrant families held in detention camps.
If you have been paying close attention to this issue, you know that Mr. Trump made it very clear that his “zero tolerance” policy remains in effect. This creates a dilemma as most “family friendly” detention centers are full. That is why Mr. Trump included the Secretary of Defense in the Order. News reports indicate that the Defense Department was directed to provide tent cities on military bases in Texas and Arkansas to house 20,000 immigrants as families. This number seems to come from the estimate that should the separation policy have continued, by December of this year there would be about 19,000 children in custody and separated from their families.
The United States already lost its moral authority in the world. When pictures of vast tent cities holding families inside barbed wire fences on military bases, watched by armed guards, looking every bit like the internment camps for Japanese-Americans in World War II, we will be shown to have lost our soul.
A complicating factor is that under a judicial ruling, children can only be held in detention for about twenty days, which is why they are moved to places such as “tender age shelters“. There is no clear path for this administration to deal with that requirement while maintaining their zero tolerance policy. In the Order, the president directs the Attorney General to go to court to modify the judge’s ruling (you may have heard of it called the “Flores Settlement”) “in a manner that would permit the Secretary, under present resource constraints, to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”
Since a “pendency” (settlement of a court case) can go for months and sometimes years when asking for asylum, we will have families being raised in captivity.
It gets worse.
There is a good chance that a fair number of the 2300 children already separated from their parents may never be reunited with them. Government officials, and loudly echoed by aid workers and attorneys trying to help these immigrants, concede that there is no clear process in place for matching parents and children after they are separated. Glaringly absent from the Order was any process to bring the various elements of the government together to try to figure out how to fix this problem. Not a word. Record keeping is a problem, language barriers are a problem, money is a problem. Immigrants arriving with only the clothes on their back don’t have the money to hire an attorney to unravel the bureaucracy or to go get their child who may be thousands of miles away, much less the same requirements for the children themselves to find their parents. The system is very haphazard. In my area alone, 300 of the children have been identified in various locations, and legal aids say that so far they have been able to find the parents of two of them.
The Trump Administration was either grossly unprepared for the practical aspects of their policy, or they just plain did not care. “(If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.)
Immigration is a difficult subject. It is complicated. Sometimes there are no good answers to intractable problems. There may even be more than one right answer to the issue. What we now know is that this Administration seems to pick the wrong answer and then make it worse.
Do not be fooled. This problem was not “fixed” by the president. It is just the beginning.