Tag Archives: Foreign policy

Exploring masterpieces of received political reporting

Hours before North Korea shocked no one except White House officials Matt Yglesias offered a summary of what we know about the occupant of the Oval Office:

Donald Trump is a liar. More than that, he’s a fraud. Not just a person who makes factual misstatements but a person who has gotten ahead in life through extensive use of bullshit, leaving in his wake a trail of broken promises.

From his unpaid bills to contractors to his scam university to his brief period ripping off the shareholders of his eponymous company, this is what Trump does — he exploits normal human nature to sucker people into trusting him, and then he exploits his own ever-growing fame and power to get away with breaking the rules.

As president, this pattern has only continued.

He never delivered his much-promised plan to release a “terrific” Obamacare alternative that would cover everyone. Instead, he backtracked on his promise to protect Medicaid from cuts. He’s dropped the promise to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for Medicare, dropped the promise to break up big banks, dropped the promise of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, and dropped the promise to develop a tax program that would leave the rich paying more — and, of course, his version of “draining the swamp“ has brought a level of corruption to official Washington that would have embarrassed the congressional barons of the Gilded Age.

None of this is even remotely controversial.

It isn’t. Yet from the way political reporters write their stories there seems to be an elixir for reaching voters who moved from Barack Obama to Trump’s column in 2016. These people are comment sections given flesh and Walgreens coupons. And they’ve a network pushing the vilest stereotypes without resistance. Fuck’em, says Paul Waldman:

In the world Republicans have constructed, a Democrat who wants to give you health care and a higher wage is disrespectful, while a Republican who opposes those things but engages in a vigorous round of campaign race-baiting is respectful. The person who’s holding you back isn’t the politician who just voted to give a trillion-dollar tax break to the wealthy and corporations, it’s an East Coast college professor who said something condescending on Twitter.

So what are Democrats to do? The answer is simple: This is a game they cannot win, so they have to stop playing. Know at the outset that no matter what you say or do, Republicans will cry that you’re disrespecting good heartland voters. There is no bit of PR razzle-dazzle that will stop them. Remember that white Republicans are not going to vote for you anyway, and their votes are no more valuable or virtuous than the votes of any other American. Don’t try to come up with photo ops showing you genuflecting before the totems of the white working class, because that won’t work. Advocate for what you believe in, and explain why it actually helps people.

Waldman’s own newspaper has an opinion section that acts as a halfway house for dangerous ideas and the kooks who espouse them. The political stories are often worse because men and women with putative experience listening to people talk in donut shops and swap meets and grocery stores write as if they’ve never read a book in their lives. Today’s “The Daily 202” begins with the sentence “Tuesday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Democratic moderates” and gets better. It’s a masterpiece of received thinking:

Statewide, John Fetterman — a small-town mayor with a bristly beard and tattoos on both of his arms — toppled Pennsylvania’s incumbent lieutenant governor, Mike Stack, thanks in part to the strong endorsement of Bernie Sanders…

Why not call him a beatnik who drinks almond milk? If Fetterman were a woman and kept her head shaved and wore boots, reporter James Hohmann would cite these as distinguishing characteristics of a member of the American Communist Party.

More autumns for the patriarchs

After more than forty years of a Castro as president of Cuba, the National Assembly of People’s Power has, well, assembled to pick a successor. Mimi Whitefield:

“The significance of this event cannot be overstated. The new leadership is composed of individuals who did not participate directly in the armed insurrection against the prior government of Fulgencio Batista and whose life experience is vastly different from the founding members of the Cuban government,” said Pedro Freyre, a Miami lawyer who has represented cruise lines and other U.S. companies that do business with Cuba. Ultimately, it “could have a profound impact on the direction of the country.”

“The transition is nothing and it is everything. It’s nothing because the system stays the same, but everything because the Cuban Revolution is built on the name Castro, the Castro brand ,” said Freyre, international practice chair at Akerman.

If Díaz-Canel is elevated, it will also be interesting to watch who is selected as his successor as first vice president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. “If they put a traditional revolutionary in that spot, it’s a further message that ‘we’re looking over your shoulder,'” said Freyre. “If they put a younger person in there, it is a clear passing of the baton.”

Listening to Cubans who emigrated in the last fifteen in my parents’ age bracket fascinates me. The Castros are bogeymen, regarded as institutions responsible for privations they notice every time they return to their towns. I’m not sure what the rise of Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel means in the short term. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has talked rot about Raul Castro calling all the shots – he’s an old man who will die soon. I’d like my resident Cuba experts to explain whether Cuba shifts into a diluted authoritarian capitalism like China’s or it continues to stumble on, with a little market force here and there.

Americans lead coalition in effort to Do Something

The drums of war beat again, and with John Bolton in charge of the National Security Council it’s 2002 all over again. Larison connects the dots:

Trump’s statement announcing the attack contained a lot of the usual moralizing rhetoric we have come to expect from presidents when they start unnecessary military interventions. At one point, he even refers to the “righteous power” of the U.S. and its allies without appreciating how ridiculous and pompous this sounds to everyone in the region and most nations around the world. Incredibly, he addressed Syria’s patrons and asked, “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?” Trump should know the answer, since he just hosted one of the chief architects of the war on Yemen that the U.S. has backed to the hilt for the last three years. Britain welcomed the Saudi crown prince earlier on, and France just hosted him in the last few days. All three have been arming and supporting the Saudis and their allies in Yemen no matter how many atrocities they commit. There may be governments that have the moral authority to lecture Syria and its allies over their atrocious conduct, but the Trump administration and our British and French allies aren’t among them.

Signatories to the United Nations Charter, the United States, Britain, and France violated international law when it knew it couldn’t overcome Russia’s veto on the Security Council. But then the Beltway is most bellicose when it isn’t vocally advocating war, by which I mean: when it repeats as if it were a truism that the Trump administration has To Do Something. Thanks to the Authorizations for the Use of Military Force passed into law in 2002, Congress has made itself gloriously supine, all the better for members of both parties to criticize the conduct of a policy they support. But I don’t want to turn this into a “process” debate — remember when the GOP  hounded Barack Obama into seeking congressional authorization to strike Syria? He didn’t get it. It didn’t stop his administration from continuing its proxy war in Yemen.

Unsaid: why Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May would support the United States when a braying imbecile sits in the Oval Office.

Trump’s foreign policy

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The Russia connections

David Corn insists we shouldn’t let disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn fade away to a consulting or lobbying job or FOX News commentator.

So what did they chat about? Did Flynn warn Kislyak not to mess with US democracy? Or did he give the Russians reasons to prefer Trump over Hillary Clinton and, consequently, more motivation for their covert efforts to nudge the election toward Trump?

What Flynn told Kislyak during the campaign could be much more important than their discussions about the sanctions prior to the inauguration. There is a possibility that Flynn, acting on behalf of the Trump campaign, signaled to Putin that his decision to assist Trump was on the money. Of course, there are even darker possibilities of more direct collusion.

Democrats can ask these questions without presenting themselves as jingos. Whenever they wrap themselves in the Stars ‘n’ Stripes they look like Nixon walking the beach in wingtip shoes. Glenn Greenwald addresses this phenomenon in an essay he published yesterday afternoon:

It’s hard to put into words how strange it is to watch the very same people — from both parties, across the ideological spectrum — who called for the heads of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Tom Drake, and so many other Obama-era leakers today heap praise on those who leaked the highly sensitive, classified SIGINT information that brought down Gen. Flynn.

It’s even more surreal to watch Democrats act as though lying to the public is some grave firing offense when President Obama’s top national security official, James Clapper, got caught red-handed not only lying to the public but also to Congress — about a domestic surveillance program that courts ruled was illegal. And despite the fact that lying to Congress is a felony, he kept his job until the very last day of the Obama presidency.

The key, in my judgement, are Trump’s tax returns. Dems won’t win by stressing the extra-constitutional or unconstitutional nature of the Trump administration — that’s why voters elected him.

Cuba and America: what Fidel Castro got wrong — and right

Gore Vidal in Empire:

The black eyes were as quick as the wit; and the swift smile was both frank and agreeably murderous. “If you really want the Philippines,” said Hay, “you can have them. I’ve got too much time on my hands as it is.”

“I don’t want them, dear fellow. I’ve got enough with Cuba.” Root lit a cigar. “In fact, I’ve told the President that State should have all our island possessions. War just isn’t suited to run a peacetime colonial government. Of course, Cuba isn’t really a colony.” Root frowned. “I wish we could think of a better word than ‘possession’ for our…”

“Possessions?” Hay smiled; the pains in the back were in remission. A summer in New Hampshire had restored if not his weary soul his spinal column. “We must face what they are.”

“I’ve just divided Cuba into four military districts, rather the way we did the South in 1865. In due course, we’ll come home, but then what happens in Cuba?”

Whatever else Fidel Castro proved that a former vassal state to the United States could have the potency of a symbol long after the country had turned into a sieve, leaking the disenchanted and the persecuted and the bored. The Republic of Cuba was a Potemkin village of a democracy, a colony in all but name even after attaining its sovereignty in 1902. Senate passage of the Platt Amendment ensured that Cuba’s fate was in the hands of el yanqui who sat in the White House. Calvin Coolidge visited the island in the twenties. A decade later, dissatisfaction with Gerardo Machado prompted FDR to send confidante Sumner Welles as special envoy, theoretically to talk Machado into not doing anything that might provoke the United States into enforcing the Platt Amendment; this move destabilized Machado’s government enough to force his resignation.

Roosevelt’s man in the State Department until a homosexual incident involving a Pullman car porter made support untenable, Welles had most to do with where the country was headed than any person, Cuban or American. Professing fealty to democratic processes, Welles never stopped reminding a half dozen Cuban presidents who was boss; he wielded his ever-present cane like a scepter. I excerpted the Vidal passage above because Welles and his turn of the century predecessors John Hay and Elihu Root were part of the same lineage. This feudal lord refused to recognize Ramon Grau San Martin’s government after Grau rescinded the loathed Platt Amendment (an earlier four-month presidential term in 1933 ended when Fulgencio Batista and Welles whisked him out of office). Nevertheless, under Grau Cuba enjoyed its longest sustained peace; the Constitution of 1940 is among the most liberal documents produced in the Western Hemisphere, guaranteeing maternity leave and a minimum wage as fundamental rights. Then in a 1952 coup d’état Batista seized power.

Thus began the most ignoble chapter in Cuba’s history, augured by Conrad’s Nostromo and immortalized in Our Man in Havana and The Godfather, Part II. His bag men would nightly collect their takes from casinos for eventual deposit in Batista’s Swiss bank accounts. Before sponsoring their own wave of Monroe Doctrine-indebted guerilla war, Senator Kennedy denounced the gift of a solid gold telephone — boy, do Americans love kitsch — by ITT Corporation to Batista, “an expression of gratitude for the excessive telephone rate increase which the Cuban dictator had granted at the urging of our government.”

In the reflection I published today, I called Fidel an aberration and a culmination, like another figure recently elected. He was the twentieth century’s longest lived caudillo, a rebuke to American impotence in the age when Arbenz, Mossadegh, and Lumumba were removed or forced out by Americans (Aquino, Noriega, Saddam would join them). However, too many leftists have a received knowledge of suffering. His support for black African movements compensates for the degree to which black Cubans are not much better off than before the revolution: if the goal is reducing black and white Cubans to a shared vague hunger, then the revolution was a success (Nelson Mandela ended the bigger, nobler man). I’ve written thousands of words on the hypocrisy, propensity for violence, and appetite for power shown by Miami’s Cuban exile elite, but one thing is true: many of them are acquainted with the night. Uncles jailed for ten years for making casual anti-revolution remarks at the University of Havana. Police lighting a man’s books on fire. The regime’s encouragement of prostitution at every level; the whole society was on the take. Neighborhood informants to this day. People standing in line for soap and eggs for hours. The drudgery of routine in a totalitarian state, about which Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind was so keen.

The mild awe in which Castro is held by the left is the most pernicious example of the perils of false equivalence. Fidel’s police arrested and jailed men for being suspected of homosexuality? The Reagan administration let men and women die for years. Castro supported the wrong left wing causes around the world? See my sentences above about Arbenz, Sumner Welles, and the rest. I respond thusly: the measure of a society is how we treat dissent. If you opposed fidelismo at its peak, you got a beating at best and worst jail time — for years — in an arbitrary judicial system. When Castro let hundreds of thousands of Cubans leave through Mariel harbor in 1980, he said the following:

He who has no revolutionary genes, he who has no revolutionary blood, he who does not have a mind that adapt to the idea of a revolution, he who does not have a heart that can adapt to the effort of heroism required by a revolution: We do not want them; we do not need them. [cheers and applause] And at any rate, they are an insignificant part of the people, because what the imperialists do not want, what they want to hide, what hurts them to acknowledge are some truths. For instance, that there is no revolution with the mass strength of the Cuban revolution. [applause] There is no revolution, that is, our revolution; well, it is not good to make comparisons; it is not good. But, the mass strength, the moral strength, the political strength, the ideological strength of the revolution is tremendous. And when it is put to the test, you saw the 19 April march; you see this rally today. But it is not only numbers that count. You can see the quality and the spirit of the people. [applause]

I see no largess of spirit, nor generosity; I see boilerplate by the dreariest sort of ideologue, a boor and a bore with bayonets ready to expel his countrymen on a whim. He doesn’t see these people as humans; they’re pawns of something he calls imperialism that stands for opposition to Fidel. Revolutions matter little if they kill their heirs. I question the good of universal health care and literacy in a country that for a few decades was an abattoir.