In what should be more than a war of words, the term “genocide” is being tossed around in the wake of the fighting during Putin’s War. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the term prior to his invasion of Ukraine, claiming that the Ukrainians were committing genocide against the Russian speaking population of Donbas in the eastern part of Ukraine. Indeed, it is part of his disinformation campaign to justify his invasion and he connects it to his declaration that the Ukrainian government is run by “Nazis.” There is a long history of this sort of talk from Mr. Putin. In short, the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany in World War II is glorified in Russian history beyond any level that we in the United States may understand. He is trying to build support for his war by tying it to the success of the Soviet army against the Nazis. Forgotten in that telling, of course, is that in 1939 the Soviet Union was allied with Germany via a non-aggression pact and they divided Poland between them. Also conveniently forgotten is that in April and May of 1940 the Soviets executed about 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia in the Katyn forest.
In 2022 we face a difficult situation. President Joe Biden called Mr. Putin a “war criminal” for the atrocities taking place in Ukrainian areas occupied or under siege by Russian troops. At last count, Ukrainian government prosecutors were investigating about 5,800 cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, with more uncovered everyday. These are facts which, unfortunately, many of us can see for ourselves each night on the national news. Last week Mr. Biden took it a step further during an event in Iowa by saying that Mr. Putin is “a dictator that commits genocide.” Later, he doubled down on his statement saying, “Yes. I called it genocide. It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian.” Which has a basis in fact, as Mr. Putin repeatedly claims that Ukraine should cease to exist as a sovereign nation. He believes it should be Russian with only Russian speakers living there.
War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are all legal terms under international law. Each is the result of ever more horrifying actions of one people against others. Genocide, however, has usually been reserved for the most heinous of crimes and gives another level of importance to the events in Ukraine. As if they were not already of utmost importance. The moral stakes are as high as they can be.
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (often called the Genocide Convention) codified the United Nations resolution of 1946 that made genocide a crime under international law. In Article II, the Convention document defines genocide as meaning “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
I will leave it to the international law experts to define what “in whole or in part” means, but it would seem that actions by one nation attempting to eliminate another does not have to succeed in entirely wiping them out. Merely trying to do so is a crime. In fact, the Convention states that conspiracy or incitement to commit genocide is itself a crime. Certainly it is easy from what we know in open source reporting that the Russians have violated at least four of the five genocidal actions under the Convention.
Sadly, whether brought up on war crime charges or for genocide, it is unlikely that Mr. Putin or any of those in his inner circle or those carrying out his orders will be brought to trial. Under the Convention the investigation and trial of such crimes are to be undertaken by the nation in which they occurred or in international court.
The real issue here is a moral one. It raises new questions about how NATO should support Ukraine and how this conflict will end. If we in the West truly believe in the slogan “Never Again!” — meaning we will never again sit by and watch the slaughter of thousands or millions of our fellow human beings as occurred in the Nazi death camps — then now is the time to step up. This is a major test of the world order and a test that will have consequences for decades to come. Russians are deliberately torturing, killing, beheading, raping, and desecrating civilians in Ukraine. I’ll repeat that. Deliberately. Even though I cannot understand how human beings can be so cruel to others — and yes, I know my history from around the world including here in the U.S. — it is none-the-less happening. It is an instrument of planned terror. It also provides a look into the psyche of the average Russian. Only by dehumanizing an opponent — thinking of them as “scum” (Putin’s word) and other than human — can people be so cruel.
These actions also impact how the war will end. How can Ukraine reach a negotiated settlement with Russia if the Russians are attempting to wipe out the very meaning of what it means to be Ukrainian? How can the West broker a settlement with a country accused of genocide? Is anything short of a complete defeat of Russia rewarding their genocidal policy? Does giving up Ukrainian territory — rewarding Russia for committing genocide — even make sense? Such questions have a significant impact on the course of the war, who gets involved, and its outcome.
My thoughts on NATO and with that, U.S. support to Ukraine have evolved over the course of the last few weeks. I think we need to go all in. Not with troops in Ukraine — at least not yet — but with every offensive and defensive weapon we can reasonably give to Ukraine. I am sure that we are providing valuable intelligence data to the Ukrainians (surprise Russian flagship Moskva!) to help them with their targeting but we should take that a step further to allow them to attack into Russian territory to hit supply, fuel and military targets. Continue to put our best military minds to work with imaginative, but deniable, actions that hinder the Russian military. Sanctions are the public face of such efforts — and they are beginning to work — but there is much more to do. Our covert capabilities are excellent. There is more to do without directly fighting the Russians.
The moral imperative is there now. I have come to understand what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is saying about how this is a fight for the future of western democracies. It may sound like hyperbole, or over-dramatization on their part, but as we see the ruthless brutality of the Russians such statements take on more meaning. Importantly, remember why Mr. Putin started this war. Once the propaganda is removed it is for one major reason. He saw a direct challenge to his totalitarian regime. If Ukraine — where many Russians have family members as do Ukrainians in Russia — becomes a full fledged western democracy sitting fully on his border, he will soon have internal domestic problems as more and more Russians clamor for a similar assimilation into Europe. As it is, many of his troops are seeing a way of life that they could not imagine. In addition to the subjugation of a nation, there is a reason Russian troops are carrying away washing machines, laptops, televisions and other consumer goods. They cannot get them in many parts of Russia and certainly, many average Russians cannot afford them.
Mr. Putin is desperate to maintain his way of life and to rule Russia with an iron fist. That is why Ukraine is such a threat. He must destroy it in order to show that the western democracies of NATO cannot succeed in protecting it, therefore no nation should think that democracy is a way of governing that succeeds. How far he is willing to go in this scorched earth policy we can only guess. This is the first time in my experience that sober, knowledgeable people are talking about the use of nuclear weapons. Many surmise that Mr. Putin thinks such weapons are a viable option if needed to succeed in Ukraine. That should give all of us pause and emphasize once again how serious this war is and how much more serious it can become.
We get easily distracted by such things as “The Slap” at the Academy Awards show, or whether we now have to wear masks on airplanes. Life goes on, yes, but the stakes are higher in Ukraine than many believe. Five million people to date have left Ukraine for other countries. This in its self is a humanitarian crisis. It is also part of the Russian plan to destabilize western Europe by disrupting the ability of democratic governments to care for their own people and the refugees.
Genocide is underway. There is a massive humanitarian crisis underway. Terror is raining down on the civilians in many Ukrainian cities, killing tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Russia is reportedly deporting women and children from occupied areas to camps in Russia. More atrocities will be uncovered. Mr. Putin is trying to destroy the ideals of western democracy. The list will grow longer.
If we mean “Never Again!” we need to act on it.
If you have not yet heard about the article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg then you may think that this piece is about someone or something else other than the United States military. Unfortunately, the title comes from the mouth of Mr. Donald J. Trump and he was referring to our military, especially to those killed, wounded or missing in action. In accordance with the over 20,000 documented lies that the president has uttered since taking office, no one is surprised that Mr. Trump denied saying anything like that and trotted out a series of sycophants and Trump associates to deny that he ever said it.
Believe what you want, but I’ll go with The Atlantic and the corroboration of the essence of the article as confirmed by the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, and Fox News. It also fits a long pattern of actions on his part that indicate his prime interest in the military is the trappings of office and banana republic style parades and displays of military equipment. For example, in 2018 his personal attorney Michael Cohen testified that Mr. Trump told him that he would never have gone to Vietnam. “You think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”
To me, it is easy to believe. It fits a pattern of behavior and conduct in office that fully supports his belief that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth doing unless there is some personal monetary or other reward involved. He simply cannot comprehend that anybody would put their lives at risk for a concept such as democracy or the Constitution. His world view is that everyone is out to get whatever they can, and to get it they will lie, cheat or steal. If you do not do that then you are a loser or a sucker. You are there to be had.
Apparently in his world view, no one gets rich in the military so to join makes you either stupid — literally, you couldn’t do anything else — or a sucker. He is reported to have said to aides after a briefing by the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford; “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?”
This latest revelation of the superficiality of everything associated with Mr. Trump is not surprising. A quick look at some of his greatest hits shows that his language about the military is nothing new. I still find it depressing. Apparently he is not just totally transactional, but also ill-informed and basically ignorant about anything that does not involve his personal interests.
- In 1997 Mr. Trump said during the Howard Stern Show that his “personal Vietnam” was avoiding Sexually Transmitted Diseases. “I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
- Starting in 1999 he continually attacked Senator John McCain and called him a loser. Mr. Trump denies this but his own Tweet from 18 July 2015 says exactly that. The then Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security Mr. Miles Taylor attested to the fact that Mr. Trump did not want to take any honorific actions following the Senator’s death. Indeed, Mr. Trump was outraged that action was taken.
- Following the 2016 Democratic Convention he relentlessly attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan after they spoke about the sacrifice of their son Army Captain Khan who was killed in action in 2004.
- In a botched condolence call in 2017 to the widow of Army Sergeant La David Johnson she said that Mr. Trump could not remember her husband’s name (he told her he read it after stumbling over it) and said to her “He knew what he signed up for.” When she expressed her pain over the call, Mr. Trump spent the next eight days attacking her via his Twitter account.
- In 2017 during a meeting in the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior administration officials, he angrily told them they were all “losers.” “I wouldn’t go to war with you people. You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
- In 2019 he interfered in the military justice system by overturning the war crimes convictions of a Navy SEAL and an Army Special Forces officer and another Army officer about to go on trial for war crimes. Special interests used the medium of Fox News to get him to intervene. He thought it was good for him to do so because it would be popular. He said, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.” Such statements show that he has no clue about the military, its honor, or its code of conduct.
- Against the advice of his senior military and civilian advisers Mr. Trump precipitously withdrew U.S. support to the Kurds in Syria leading to a near massacre as Turkish forces poured across the border. He left a staunch ally in the lurch in order to impress the thugish leader of Turkey.
- This summer Mr. Trump threatened to deploy U.S. combat troops against American citizens. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley had to make two separate public statements affirming the military is not in the business of acting against our own citizens and that the non-partisan nature of the military precludes support for any candidate for public office.
- In July of this year Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw about a third of our deployed forces in Europe to support NATO. This is a move that certainly delights Russian president Vladimir Putin. His stated reason for doing so was “We don’t want to be the suckers anymore. We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s that simple.” (Not surprisingly, his statement on bill paying is not accurate and shows his ignorance of how NATO defense spending works. But hey, remember the 20,000 lies.)
- It is well known in and out of government through published reports that Russian agents in Afghanistan put bounties on the heads of U.S. military personnel. Taliban fighters would be paid for each American killed. This is perhaps the greatest sign the Mr. Trump cares not one iota for American military personnel as he makes countless excuses for inaction. Claiming ignorance, to this day he has not confronted the Russians over this outrage. Preventing the needless loss of life for the troops and doing all in his power to keep them safe is the greatest responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief and he refuses to take action.
There are many more examples of his callous disregard for the American military. He seems to think that all he has to do is mouth a few words at some rally and he’s done.
Do I believe that Mr. Trump is capable of calling our dead and wounded losers and suckers? You bet I do. His track record is abysmal. To paraphrase another president, Mr. Trump does not ask what he can do for the country, he asks what the country can do for him.
As Mr. Donald J. Trump continues to work hard over the last week to cement his status as the Worst President Ever, there are numerous examples of his total failure as a leader and as a person. Whether it is continuing to espouse that COVID-19 will “sort of disappear”; promoting “white power”; holding thinly disguised rallies at national monuments; or running for president of the Confederacy, there are large numbers of occasions when one can only shake your head and hope that the election gets here soon.
And then it gets worse.
There may be no part of the job of President as important as that of Commander-in-Chief. People die when the president gets it wrong. For that matter, people sometimes die even when everything goes as planned. It is a tough world and it is part of the pact between the military and the American people that service men and women will go in harms way to protect and defend the Constitution and our way of life in exchange for the promise that their lives, talent and American treasure will not be wasted in futile exploits and that those in charge — all the way to the president — will do all that they can to keep them safe in an inherently dangerous profession. In the military it is known as force protection.
As a country, we can be reasonably certain that the recent revelations that Russian operatives worked with the Taliban in Afghanistan to put a bounty on the lives of US and coalition service members are true. The evidence is startlingly clear. The price for an American death was as much as 100,000 dollars.
Within a normal administration this would have caused one of several, or multiple, courses of action to kick in immediately upon learning of this threat. The Russians would be warned at the highest level of government that this was a dangerous game that must stop immediately. Likely, sanctions would be leveled against all involved. Probably, especially if further evidence was uncovered, those involved in Afghanistan would have been on the receiving end of a capture or kill operation.
As we know, sadly this is not a normal administration. The official announcement was that no action will be taken against Russia.
And then it gets worse.
Mr. Trump says, “I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.” These remarks came on 1 July after several days of credible reporting that Mr. Trump continuously decried and belittled.
The excuses for inaction have come fast and furious. Among those floated were the assertion that Mr. Trump was never briefed on the situation. When that was reported to be inaccurate, the excuse was that it may have been in a written intelligence document but no one verbally briefed him. When that did not quite pass the smell test, the reason given was that the intelligence reports were not “verifiable.” Well now. That is not an intelligence term. Most intelligence reports in this vein are not verifiable. The terms of art are “credible” or “not credible.” When there is credible evidence of a terrorist attack, it is not verified that an attack is actually going to happen until it does. The country does not — or at least did not — wait for an attack before acting. The killing of Osama bin Laden was based on credible intelligence — they did not know for sure that he was in that villa at that time — it was verified when they got a DNA match from the dead body. The terms that Mr. Trump and his enablers use are just gobbledygook designed to deflect from Mr. Trump’s dereliction of duty as Commander-in-Chief.
Rather than being bogged down in the weeds over who was briefed and to what level, etc. etc. etc. the real question should be what action would a president take once the story broke? The answer is easy. The president picks up the phone and calls for an immediate update and then works with his staff for appropriate responses to counter the Russians or to put out a credible explanation as to what actually happened should the facts have been misinterpreted.
So now we all know about it. Who knew about it when is not now important. What is Mr. Trump going to do? Apparently, whine about how it is unfair to him and that it is all designed to make him look bad and on and on with his usual “poor me” schtick. Despicable.
It seems that the lives of US service men and women fighting our nation’s wars are less valuable than whatever political ax Mr. Trump has to grind.
The signal to Mr. Putin? Do whatever you want Vlad because the USA is not going to hold you accountable. It is open season on Americans abroad and on our national security at home. Kill our folks. Interfere in our election. Conduct cyber attacks on our businesses and infrastructure. Do whatever you want because the stable genius in the White House will not do anything to upset his personal apple cart full of Russian money.
To me, that is the best and most plausible explanation as to why Mr. Trump refuses, time and time and time again, to do anything to upset his “friend” Vladimir Putin. My sense is not that Mr. Trump is protecting Mr. Putin. My strong belief is that Mr. Putin is protecting Mr. Trump’s secrets and Mr. Trump is afraid that if he says or does the wrong thing, the Russians will put it all out there. Putin is the name, blackmail the game.
No one with oversight responsibility has yet to see Mr. Trump’s taxes or the financial records of Trump, Inc. Mr. Trump has fought long and hard in court to keep those records secret. I am willing to bet that those records are full of illegal at the worst, unethical at the best, transactions. Mr. Trump and Trump, Inc. had multiple bankruptcies. US banks stopped lending him money for his far flung schemes. My bet is that Russian oligarchs, beholden to Mr. Putin, bailed him out and in return Mr. Trump and his businesses helped the Russian Mafia to launder money and to conduct other illegal schemes.
Have you ever seen the movie The Godfather? It’s all you need to know as to how Mr. Trump is entangled with the Russians. And believe me, Mr. Trump is not the Godfather. I don’t think he is even as smart or as skilled as Fredo.
We know that our values are totally corrupted when the Commander-in-Chief will take no action to protect our troops and the Party of Trump in the Congress stays silent. It is hard for me to decide which is more loathsome — a president that will not do his job or members of Congress that protect and defend a corrupt president rather than our troops.
During his 2016 Inaugural Address, Mr. Donald J. Trump talked about “American carnage” — a dystopian view of the United States that he promised to fix. Little did we know that actually he was predicting the future. Our country is in shambles and disarray and the Trump Administration does nothing.
Mr. Trump and his cronies are trying out two strategies moving forward during the pandemic caused by the coronavirus:
- Declare victory and go home. We could have lost 2 million Americans and it looks like we’ll only lose about 150,000 so, as Mr. Jared Kushner said from the White House last week, people should recognize “that this is a great success story.” The number of deaths is exaggerated anyway. Open up business because a dragging economy could cost the president the election.
- Make the case that all Americans are “warriors” that are fighting to regain the American way of life just like in WWI or WWII and of course there will be casualties along the way. This is war and people die in wars. Get over it. Open up business because a dragging economy could cost the president the election.
Meanwhile, over 77,212 Americans are dead. The virus is spreading into areas that have yet to feel the full brunt of the pandemic. There is no widespread testing, tracing or methodical isolation. I have concluded that for most Americans, we are on our own. We will get no help from the government. We will have to make personal choices as to what is safe and what is not. As the song playing in the background during Mr. Trump’s factory visit in Arizona says, “Live and Let Die.”
The federal government, as a reflection of Mr. Trump, has failed miserably in fighting the pandemic. Mr. Trump’s leadership has been inept, incompetent, divisive, vindictive, callous, resentful and antagonistic. He’s worked hard to win the award as The Worst President Ever. In fact, in my feverish mind with too much time on my hands, I believe he has worked too hard to reach this level of destruction throughout the land. It cannot just be incompetence and a failure to learn from what works or does not. It has to be deliberate. Why is that? Why would he work so hard to destroy the U.S.A.?
There are several possibilities.
- It is deliberate. Mr. Trump did not invent the coronavirus or introduce into the U.S. Once here, however, perhaps he seized the opportunity to use it to fundamentally disrupt our way of life and to bring us down in the eyes of the world — no longer the greatest country on Earth. There is, after all, a reason that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted Mr. Trump to be president. Why would Mr. Trump call Mr. Putin when news broke that General Michael Flynn’s prosecution was dropped by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as he did yesterday? What were they celebrating? Did the Russians work on Mr. Trump’s behalf for the opportunity to destroy us?
- It is a sign that Mr. Trump is mentally ill. I don’t mean this in any “the dude’s cray cray” kind of way. I mean it in a serious, albeit judgmental, way that he is ill. He is a known narcissist. He claims he is a stable genius. He acts irrationally. He has no empathy for the tens of thousands dead. He seriously suggested that people should inject cleaning disinfectants into their bodies to fight the virus. He fires anyone that disagrees with him. He lied about the magnitude of the threat. He is vengeful. He seems to enjoy chaos and dysfunction. Perhaps he enjoys playing a bigger than life figure that commands death or salvation based on his whims. Perhaps he enjoys the harm done to people, especially, it seems, in “blue” states. Perhaps he is not just a text book case study of a bad leader but rather an unstable individual emotionally, intellectually and mentally unfit for the office.
- It furthers his agenda. The sad statistics are that a disproportionate number of the COVID-19 sufferers and especially deaths are immigrants, minorities and the poor. For four years, Mr. Trump has raged about the “other” — those not “like us.” He supports armed white militia members storming state capitals with their guns to insist on “liberation” from the safer at home policies around the country. In his eyes they are “very good people.” Just like the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Mr. Trump tends to emphasize that many of those dying are old or with underlying health conditions. They use the old “they were going to die anyway” meme. Is this a chance to cull the herd in his mind just as some of these far right groups argue? Under the cover of the pandemic his administration has implemented draconian measures at the border, denied asylum seekers respite as required by U.S. law, and limited legal immigration — all outside of and in addition to the travel restrictions in place. From the moment he declared his candidacy for president in front of paid supporters he has railed against non-white (and for that matter non-male) members of our society. Kids in cages anyone? What he may or may not believe in his heart does not matter. His actions are clear.
- He cares only about himself and making money. He honestly does not care how many Americans die or struggle financially as long as it does not impact him negatively. Perhaps he sees an opportunity to profit financially off of the pandemic. In short, he is an opportunist. At the very least, Mr. Trump sees a chance to consolidate his position and to remove any impediments to his power within the government and to replace good people with lackeys. Many Inspectors’ General professional life expectancy is measured in the amount of time before they do their job and call a foul on Mr. Trump. There are gaping holes in the diplomatic corps and in every cabinet agency in the government. Mr. Trump claims he does not need them. Those that are left are not the A-Team or even the B-Team. It is more like F-Troop. At this point in time, it is obviously part of the plan to eliminate the “Deep State” as he sees it. He does not care that the Deep State (of course there is no such thing) of professionals and experts are needed in times of crisis. Jared Kushner will take care of it. The pandemic covers nicely for an ever more blatant power grab beyond what we have seen over the last few years. Mr. Trump has learned that he can get away with anything without consequences.
There may be other scenarios that may be equally plausible or outrageous. The bottom line is that our national response to the crisis was badly bungled and continues to be an embarrassment. The sad part is that this not nuances of policy. People are dying. The numbers continue to go up. Many more will die as more and more states are pushed by Mr. Trump to ignore CDC guidelines and to open up their economies without the testing, tracing and isolation infrastructure in place.
Pay attention to what he says and does. We have learned that he projects his personal feelings onto others and in the process of his complaining he tells us exactly what he intends to do to further destroy the norms, regulations and laws that govern our day to day discourse.
At one point I thought maybe we had Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show as president. Ted was not deliberately a loose cannon, he just had no clue. Unfortunately, this is serious business.
Deliberate or not, Mr. Trump changed the American way of life well into the future, if not forever.
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.”
It isn’t funny anymore.
The past week showed the lunacy of Mr. Trump and his actions as president in all their weirdest manifestations. From calling American Jews “disloyal” to Israel (among the oldest tropes of anti-Semites) if they vote for a Democrat, to calling the Prime Minister of Denmark “nasty” (his go-to slam on women of power who don’t do what he wants), to acknowledging himself as the “second coming of God” and the “King of Israel,” to calling his hand picked Chairman of the Federal Reserve the “enemy,” it was hard to keep up with his unraveling. It was yet more bafflegab. As the old saying goes, “you can’t tell the players without a score card.”
None of these were the low points of the past week, however. That honor goes to Mr. Trump’s participation in the Group of Seven (G-7) summit over the weekend in France. The G-7 has through the decades provided a forum for the world’s seven strongest democracies to reach a common understanding of problems facing the world and to provide an opportunity to face those problems with a common purpose. This year’s meeting could more properly be called the G-6 and some guy named Trump.
Symbolic of the entire American fiasco were the pictures of the meeting on climate change where all of the G-6 were there, along with the leaders of other nations invited to sit in on the session, and an empty chair where the President of the United States was to sit. The proffered excuse for his no-show was that he was in meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A scheduling conflict. Except that both Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Modi were at the climate change round table as is clearly shown in pictures of the group in session.
Does anything symbolize our current status in the world of international diplomacy more than a picture of an empty chair?
Whatever one’s view on climate change and its importance to the world (I think it an existential threat to our well being, physically, economically and militarily) to have the supposed leader of the free world missing in action shows that the United States is no longer the leader on the world stage. Reports from other weekend meetings indicate that Mr. Trump was marginalized by the other world leaders because they were focused on important issues related to the future of their countries while Mr. Trump spent much of his time bragging about his trade war with China, pushing to have Russian President Vladimir Putin reinstated to the G-7 (making it the G-8 even though Russia still occupies Ukrainian territory in Crimea — the reason they were kicked out — and oh by the way, they are not one of the world’s leading economic powers or democracies) and touting his Doral, Florida golf course and resort as the finest in the world and the anticipated site of next year’s G-7 summit (thus making a profit on one of his business dealings by making foreign leaders and their entourages pay him for the privilege of fulfilling their duties.)
It was clear to observers that the G-6 were merely tolerating Mr. Trump and their goal was not to engage him on substantive issues, but rather to assuage him, flatter him and otherwise keep him occupied so that he did not blow up the primary focus of the work they were trying to do. They knew he would not be part of any solutions so their only objective was to keep him from making the situation worse. They mostly succeeded.
In other words, the world is moving on without the United States. “America First” has become “America Alone.”
It is, once again, obvious that Mr. Trump has no understanding of history or why the world has been at relative peace for the last 75 years. Decades of building trust through multi-lateral organizations such as NATO took down barriers that had resulted in two world wars in the span of twenty-five years. Peace resulted in tremendous economic prosperity in many parts of the world and raised the relative standard of living for most people on earth.
The number one beneficiary of that peace and prosperity? The United States. By taking the lead around the world, we could shape these institutions to our benefit. Other countries were willing to follow our lead because of our economic and military power, but also because they too benefited. It is to our distinct advantage to be part and parcel of these institutions and to set the agenda through our strength and seasoned leadership.
To Mr. Trump this system exists only because previous administrations were chumps and allowed the rest of the world to take advantage of us. Obviously, he has no understanding that the circumstances that led to World War II — the U.S. going it alone in isolation, imposing strict tariffs, the Great Depression — are being recreated by his vacillating and impulsive policy announcements via Twitter.
Real diplomacy aims to achieve a win-win for those involved. Mr. Trump’s core belief is that there are never any win-win situations. Only winners and losers. One must win at all cost — even if that means lying, cheating, and subverting your friends. Otherwise, you are a sucker.
An example would be Mr. Trump’s dealings with Denmark over Greenland. The U.S. could argue that Greenland has important strategic interest to the U.S. for two reasons. The geo-strategic reality that a militarily resurgent Russian Navy must pass through the U.K.-Iceland-Greenland Gap to get to the open Atlantic Ocean — simplifying the U.S. Navy goal to locate those forces, especially submarines. The other is the growing importance of the Arctic to commercial interests, including shipping, for which both Russia and China have ambitious plans. If Mr. Trump understood diplomacy and the multi-lateral nature of our alliances, he would know that Denmark — the Danish kingdom includes Greenland — is one of our greatest allies including sending troops to support us in Afghanistan and Iraq and suffering 43 of their brave soldiers killed in action. Instead of cancelling a state visit — rarely offered by the kingdom — and calling the Prime Minister “nasty” he should have made the visit, talked with the Danish government and worked to see how to meet both nation’s interests while preserving the goals of the U.S. Instead he got mad when they would not sell the island at his demand, as if we would sell Puerto Rico to the French because they want to protect their interests in the Caribbean.
So the world simply moves on without the U.S. and works together without our input. The resulting impact on our foreign policy and national interests is that we lose our seat at the table. All Mr. Trump can do is throw a temper tantrum and disrupt. Indeed, he considers himself a disrupter, a position that has some great appeal to his supporters.
In reality, he is not a disrupter, he is a destroyer. He breaks things and destroys in a fit of pique or just to show that he can. A real leader may shake up the status quo, but has a plan and a strategy to implement a new, and one hopes, better idea. Not so with this president. He breaks things, blames others for it, and expects the world to pick up after his mess. He has no grand plan.
Our friends and allies have learned the game. So have our adversaries. Our friends do not want to play anymore. Our adversaries see a chance to take advantage of the situation. Our friends simply placate him to his face so that he stays out of the way and then they go and do what they want without our input. Our adversaries flatter him and then do whatever they want without fear of consequences.
It may be a stretch to say that we are becoming irrelevant, but our influence is quickly waning.
This may be our weakest international position since before World War II.
You may have missed it with all of the theatrics surrounding the Trump Shutdown, but some potentially mind-blowing news came out last Friday and over the weekend.
Even as I suffer from Trump fatigue, and you know what I think of him as president, it is impossible to ignore this development. The FBI started a counter-intelligence investigation of the president in 2017. The President. Of the United States. It is unknown whether that investigation continues under the guidance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but it is likely that it does. A counter-intelligence investigation is totally unlike a criminal investigation. It is a totally different ball game. It also puts the possibility of the president’s efforts at obstructing justice into an entirely different dimension. Perhaps instead of trying to protect himself from embarrassment or through some other motivation, his decision to fire then FBI Director James Comey “over this Russia thing” was with a different outcome in mind. Coupled with all of the subsequent efforts to stop or disrupt Mr. Mueller’s investigation, it appears he was trying to keep the discovery of conspiracy with a foreign power from becoming known. In other words, the obstruction was the conspiracy (or collusion as it is popularly, but wrongly, called.)
In this context, the Mueller investigation, and Mr. Trump’s actions as a candidate and as president form a continuum across time and are not a series of discreet events.
It is hard to adequately convey how difficult the decision to do this is. For the Department of Justice (DOJ), that would have to approve the FBI investigation at its highest level, to sign off on it, would indicate that there is or was extraordinary evidence that something was amiss. This would be no routine investigation.
Apparently, the FBI became so alarmed at Mr. Trump’s actions that it appeared he was acting on behalf of a foreign power. They knew that a “normal” president would not talk or act as he was, specifically with respect to Russia and Vladimir Putin, and could only explain it by the concern that he must be under the influence of a foreign power. In other words, they thought the president could be a Russian agent. No movie studio would make this movie. Too preposterous.
To be clear, to be a Russian agent does not necessarily mean that the individual was trained in Russia or by Russians, or even that he was directly controlled by a Russian case agent. As former CIA Director John Brennan said in testimony to Congress, such people can be “wittingly or unwittingly” agents of a foreign power. I do not know and cannot make a good guess as to whether Mr. Trump is or is not knowingly a Russian agent. But I do know that he is acting to further the Russian agenda over the best interests of the United States.
Keep in mind, Mr. Putin was a career KGB agent who attained the rank of Colonel before the end of the Cold War. He knows what he is doing.
This is scary, mind-blowing, and a conundrum. Our system of government is based on the premise that the president is above reproach when it comes to national security. One may disagree on specific policy decisions, but we must assume that presidents are doing what they believe are in the best interests of the United States, not a foreign adversary. The president is the final arbiter of military, intelligence, and foreign policy issues. How do intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies or the counter intelligence arms of various government agencies deal with an individual who, while under investigation, can over turn, hinder or evade those investigations? And how should they be held to account? If by definition the president is the lead diplomat for our country, how can he be wrong? There are many implications and questions that arise when one starts thinking about our president as a Russian agent. My head hurts.
Keep in mind that counter intelligence agents are some of the most peculiar people one will ever meet. Thinking about their job, they are suspicious about everyone and everything that does not fit their mold of the “normal.” Conspiracies lurk everywhere. None-the-less, there must have been sufficient reasons to open this investigation or it would never have happened. They do not investigate the president for the fun of it or for political reasons. They just do not. Yes, paranoia runs deep. Into your life it will creep. (With apologies to Buffalo Springfield.) You are not paranoid if it is true.
The possibility gains traction through documented reports that Mr. Trump met one-on-one with Mr. Putin five different times over the last two years with only interpreters in the room. He then collected the interpreters notes and refused to share what was said with anyone else in the government. Two particularly troubling meetings were the one in Helsinki last summer and an unscheduled meeting at a G-20 dinner in Hamburg Germany where only the Russian interpreter was present. (I have written about these meetings before. I was especially alarmed by the meeting in Germany.) Rest assured the Russians know what was discussed and agreed to, but not those in the highest levels of our own government.
In my view, the most likely foundation to this arrangement rests on sanctions. The Russians want them lifted and so does the Trump Organization. The Russians were heavily sanctioned following their annexation of Crimea and it is hurting their economy. They want them gone. The sanctions were the genesis of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. When you hear “Magnitsky Act” think sanctions. The Russians want them removed. Now. Mr. Trump wants them lifted because following his many bankruptcies, nearly all his money came from Russia. The banks that produced the loans are subject to the sanctions. Continued sanctions means no big money for Trump Org. Additionally, it is well know that Mr. Trump’s business Holy Grail is to put his name on a Trump Tower Moscow.
My view is that of many possible explanations, the simplest is that Mr. Trump wants to do business in Russia when he leaves office and is willing to bargain with Mr. Putin to get the access. What other evidence exists?
Let’s look at some of the president’s actions and words. This list is not exhaustive but representative.
- As the Republican nominee he had the Republican National Committee 2016 platform changed regarding Ukraine in order to mirror Russian claims and interests.
- At every opportunity he incessantly praises Mr. Putin which validates Mr. Putin’s self-proclaimed status, empowers him at home, and comes at the expense of our allies and friends.
- The primary goal of Mr. Putin is to splinter the Western Alliance so that Russia can fill the void and return to the glory days — as Mr. Putin sees it — of the Soviet Union. Mr Trump aids that goal in many ways.
- He launches personal and political attacks against the leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and others. He belittles lesser members of the European Union (EU) and NATO.
- He supports Brexit (The UK departure from the EU) which currently has the UK in turmoil. This weakens the EU and contributes to chaos in the internal affairs of a key ally. That internal chaos distracts a force for good and takes a staunch opponent of Russia off of the world stage.
- When asked in a 2018 interview to name the U.S. “biggest foe globally right now,” Mr. Trump responded “I think the European Union is a foe.” The EU contains our closest allies. The interview was just before he met with Mr. Putin in Helsinki.
- He continually belittles NATO in public. It is apparent he does not know how funding for NATO works. He apparently also does not know that the only time Article V of NATO was invoked (an attack on one nation is an attack on all) was following the terrorist attack in September 2001. NATO troops have been in Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict and remain there. It has been widely reported that Mr. Trump continually pushed his senior aids throughout 2018 to have the U.S. withdraw from NATO. Such an action would be Mr. Putin’s wildest dream come true.
- He continually denies that Russia interfered with the U.S. 2016 election. He continually takes Mr. Putin’s word that Russia did not interfere over the facts presented by the entire U.S. intelligence community. Among his justification for taking Mr. Putin’s word is the newly reported reasoning for doing so, including this remarkable quote. Mr. Trump “said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that ‘if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.’ Mr. Trump said: ‘I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world’ at hacking.”
- He pushed to have Russia rejoin the G-7 (it was previously the G-8). The Russians were expelled following their annexation of Crimea. Mr. Trump said that he thinks that the punishment is too severe for that act.
- At the 2018 G-7 summit Mr. Trump opined that of course Crimea belongs to Russia because “they all speak Russian.” This put fear into the hearts of our Baltic, and NATO, allies that were once part of the Soviet Union and have a large Russian ethnic population.
- Following the March 2018 poisoning in the UK of the Skirpals, former Russian agents that went over to the West, he said that there was no evidence to support the UK Prime Minister’s denunciations of Russia for an attack on British soil.
- Last December he called for U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria “now” and turn it over to the Russians. This is a long-standing goal of the Russians so that they can increase their influence in the Middle East and gain a military presence in the region.
- He often spouts Russian talking points (propaganda). The most recent instance was his spontaneous and out of the blue discourse on the Soviet Union, their presence in Afghanistan, and a revisionist history of their reasons for invading. (This was the subject of a recent post in this space, explaining how this promotes Mr. Putin’s view of the restoration of the Soviet empire.)
And so on. Some big, some small, but all consistent in their praise of Russia and in pushing the Russian agenda.
So, what to think? Is our president a Russian agent, whether wittingly or unwittingly? I sincerely hope that the Mueller investigation addresses this issue clearly, either to confirm it or to debunk it. From where I sit today, and from all that we have seen of Mr. Trump in the last three years, I think it likely. It is most likely in the nature of long-standing business and other money schemes between Russian oligarchs and Mr. Trump and his family. That would be in keeping with what we know about him and what he says himself. With him, no matter the subject, it is all about the money. Period.
Should this be true, I have no idea how it will be resolved. It is beyond comprehension. The President of the United States works for Russia. Incredible.
The only thing that is clear to me is that Mr. Mueller needs to get the results of his investigation into the open as soon as possible. I know that he is being meticulous, as he should be. However, if this is even only a little bit true, our nation is in danger. We need to know and we need to know before something truly awful happens. And if it isn’t true, we need to know that as well so that we can move on without distraction to addressing the complex issues that we know await us in 2019
Mr. Donald J. Trump held his first cabinet meeting of the year on 2 January. In keeping with his reality show background, the meeting was televised. The meeting was really a 90 minute monologue on just about everything that Mr. Trump stewed about over the holidays. There were many newsworthy elements to be found in the transcript ranging from the border wall to the economy. Many of the statements were provably wrong or misleading. The list of falsehoods is too long to go through here.
Among the many untruths from the meeting perhaps the most troubling, at least in terms of asking oneself “where the heck did that come from?” were his comments on Afghanistan. In a discussion about a continued U.S. military presence there, he launched into a bizarre statement full of previously unknown “facts”. In addition to slandering our allies that have fought and died alongside US troops there he said,
“Russia is there. Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. So you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there; they should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting.
The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan.”
No one. No one, on the left, the right or the respective wing nuts of either side have ever said or believed that the Russians went into Afghanistan to fight terrorists or because they had a “right” to invade them. Bipartisan efforts during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush worked to isolate and punish the USSR for that invasion.
The real reason the Soviets invaded was the Brezhnev Doctrine. In 1968 Leonid Brezhnev as leader of the Soviet Union put forth as a basic tenet of Soviet foreign policy the right to interfere in the affairs of any communist country anywhere in the world. The Afghan government was communist when the Soviets invaded in 1979 and they occupied the country until their withdrawal in 1989. While true that the occupation was a drain on the Soviet military and the occupation became unpopular with the Soviet people, it did not bankrupt them or otherwise lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain. There were numerous reasons for the fall, but Afghanistan was more of a symptom of all that was wrong with the Soviet system rather than the cause. They definitely did not enter Afghanistan to fight “terrorists.”
Only one person is pushing the narrative that the Soviet Union had a “right” to invade Afghanistan to stop “terrorism.” That one person is Vladimir Putin. He is pushing a new revisionist history that is pure propaganda and is designed to restore his view of the glory of the Soviet empire in order to stoke nationalist sentiment in Russia, entrench his own power, and provide the basis for his adventurism in Ukraine, the Baltic states, and elsewhere in the hope of restoring that empire.
And now I guess there are two people pushing that line, one of which is the President of the United States.
As the Wall Street Journal put it in part in an editorial,
“Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.
The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.”
Is the president ignorant of history or is someone feeding him propaganda that he willingly repeats? I am not a conspiracy theorist, but this should raise alarm bells. Either the president really is ignorant of important world events that continue to shape international relations today, or he is willingly repeating Mr. Putin’s revisionist history meant to restore the luster of the former Soviet Union. Either answer is deeply troubling.
What are we to make of this? In the continued chaos of this administration it is easy to lose track of the multitude of “absurd” statements and actions coming out of the White House. However, given the president’s propensity to support and defend all things Putin, one must ask again, “what is going on?” The answer may be even more troubling than we can imagine.
“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.