The Welcome Humiliation of John Bolton

A warmonger is the latest to lose his dignity to Donald Trump.

Say this for Donald Trump. He may be transforming American politics into a kleptocratic fascist reality show and turning our once-great country into a global laughingstock, but as least he’s humiliating John Bolton in the process.

Many people who get involved with this president end up diminished, embarrassed or, in quite a few cases, indicted. Rex Tillerson, once known as a corporate titan, will now be remembered for his brief, ineffectual record as secretary of state. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, and Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, are in prison.

Bolton’s comeuppance is of a different kind. By taking to Fox News to kiss up to Trump, he became national security adviser, a job that no other president would have ever given to a discredited warmonger. His reward is that, after devoting his life to the expansion of American power globally, he’s a hapless party to its contraction. For a person to sell out his putative ideals for such a hollow victory would be like a Greek drama, if the Greeks had written dramas about such small men.

Bolton is sometimes described as a neoconservative, but that’s not really right. Neoconservatives purported to champion the expansion of American values, while Bolton just wants to impose American might. On the surface, he seems an excellent fit with Trump, who is also uninterested in human rights and contemptuous of multilateral institutions. Both are

  • bellicose nationalists,
  • dismissive of climate change,
  • eager to empower the Israeli right,
  • hostile to Islam but
  • solicitous of Saudi Arabia.

But the uber-hawk Bolton, who still refuses to admit that the Iraq war was a mistake, has long believed that America’s most implacable enemies include North Korea, Russia and Iran. One multilateral organization he appears to value is NATO, a counterweight to Russia that he once called “the most successful political-military alliance in human history.” Now, at the summit of his career, he’s part of an administration that makes a mockery of his longtime foreign policy philosophy.

When the George W. Bush administration, in which Bolton also served, lifted some sanctions on North Korea in 2008, Bolton seemed almost heartsick. “Nothing can erase the ineffable sadness of an American presidency, like this one, in total intellectual collapse,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

So one can only imagine the ineffable sadness he felt over the weekend, when Trump stepped into North Korea to shake the hand of his friend Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s totalitarian leader. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering putting aside the goal of getting North Korea to surrender the nuclear weapons it already has, instead trying to get the country to stop making new nuclear material.

Given Trump’s limitations as a statesman, that’s probably the best that can be hoped for. But it’s almost certainly not what Bolton, who was calling for pre-emptive strikes on North Korea just before Trump appointed him, thought he was signing up for. In response to the Times article, Bolton tweeted angrily that he’d heard of no such plan, though he might have simply been out of the loop. After all, while Trump was flattering Kim, Bolton was in Mongolia.

Also on Sunday, Politico reported on a white paper prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff about expanding Russian power. “Russia has a growing and demonstrated capacity and willingness to exercise malign influence in Europe and abroad, including in the United States,” the paper said.

Bolton used to decry this influence. Vladimir Putin’s efforts in the 2016 election, wrote Bolton in 2017, was “a casus belli, a true act of war, and one Washington will never tolerate.” When Putin lied to Trump’s face during their first meeting in Hamburg, Germany, Bolton hoped Trump would take it as a “highly salutary lesson about the character of Russia’s leadership.” Obviously, Trump learned no such lesson. At the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, last week, the president joked with Putin about election interference and the murder of journalists, a scene that will now be part of Bolton’s legacy.

There is one major issue left on which Bolton could shape history. On Monday, news broke that Iran had breached a limit on how much nuclear fuel it can possess under the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Trump administration abandoned. That comes after months of escalation on both sides, and the threat remains that Bolton could goad an erratic Trump into war.

Standing between us and that apocalyptic possibility is the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has been urging Trump away from a military confrontation with Iran. Last month, Carlson used his opening monologue to eviscerate Bolton, calling him a “bureaucratic tapeworm” for whom war is “always good business.” In normal administrations, national security advisers have more authority than cable news hosts, but it was Carlson, not Bolton, who was with Trump at the Korean Demilitarized Zone this weekend. (Carlson later called into “Fox & Friends” and rationalized North Korean atrocities, said that leading a country “means killing people.”)

It’s nightmarish to live in a country where our foreign policy has been reduced to an intramural battle between Fox News reactionaries. And there’s still a danger that Bolton could outmaneuver the isolationists. But right now there is a thin, bitter consolation in knowing that he, like so many others who’ve worked for Trump, sacrificed his principles for power and will likely end up with neither.

Stop Giving Trump the Benefit of the Doubt

Five months later, everything liberals said about the tax bill turned out to be true. Contrary to Republican claims, wage growth has been anemic. Instead of sharing the wealth with employees, companies have spent record amounts of money buying back their own stock. The tax cuts are creating larger deficits than Republicans predicted, and those deficits are now being cited as a pretext for cutting spending on the poor.

.. has signaled that he wants the summit meeting too much,” David Sanger reported in The New York Times. The U.S. government has even issued a commemorative coin about the summit featuring Trump and “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un face-to-face, signaling to the world that it’s now the American president who craves legitimation from the North Korean dictator.

.. Even a casual newspaper reader — which, of course, Trump is not — knows that when North Korea talks about “denuclearization,” it doesn’t mean unilaterally giving up all its nuclear weapons. A hastily arranged meeting between two bellicose egomaniacs, premised on a basic misunderstanding, is unlikely to resolve one of the world’s most intractable geopolitical conflicts; a flimsy agreement that roughly preserves the status quo seems like a best-case scenario.

.. We all want to be open-minded, but con men should never be given the benefit of the doubt.

‘The Russians Have Succeeded Beyond Their Wildest Expectations’

Former intelligence chief James Clapper says President Trump is dead wrong about Russian interference in America’s elections. And they’re going to get away with it again, he warns.

.. “I mean, the Russians succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations. Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded to a fare-thee-well. They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded to a fare-thee-well.”

“They’ve been emboldened,” he added, “and they will continue to do this.”

.. Trump’s rhetoric is “downright scary and disturbing,” Clapper agonized in an extraordinary monologue on live TV in August, amid Trump’s “fire and fury” threats toward North Korea. He questioned Trump’s “fitness for office” and openly worried about his control over the nuclear launch codes. In our conversation, Clapper didn’t back off one word of it, slamming Trump’s lies, “distortions and untruths.”

.. And he is certainly no liberal partisan: just ask Democrats like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who excoriated Clapper for what appeared to be misleading a Senate committee about the intelligence community’s surveillance of private U.S. citizens, information later revealed by Edward Snowden’s disclosures. (His testimony was “a big mistake,” Clapper now says, but not “a lie.”

..  a tough-minded former Air Force lieutenant general who once said, “I never met a collection capability I didn’t like.”

.. “It’s a very painful thing for me to be seen as a critic of this president,” he told me, “but I have those concerns.”

.. what he did when then-President-elect Trump first started attacking the intelligence community’s Russia findings. He didn’t publicly blast Trump—he called him on the phone.

.. more significant Russian arms-control violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. “If you look at what Russia is trying to do to undermine us, and the modernization of their strategic nuclear forces—and they only have one adversary in mind when they do that

.. appearing to lecture Americans on why only that small percentage of citizens who have served in the military could understand the nature of their sacrifice.

.. He took particular issue with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comment that Kelly’s word about the congresswoman should not be second-guessed because he had been a four-star general, a remark Clapper called “absurd.”

.. worried about the Trump era as the new age of militarized government, not only with Kelly as chief of staff but also a sitting lieutenant general, H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, and a former general, James Mattis, as defense secretary. Clapper said that while he has “a visceral aversion” to generals “filling these political, civilian positions,” he’s nonetheless “glad they’re there.”

.. he fears that “some of this intemperate, bellicose rhetoric” between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to a “cataclysmic” war.

The risk, he said, came primarily from Kim miscalculating as a result of Trump’s heated words.

.. “Kim Jong Un doesn’t have any advisers that are going to give him objective counsel. He’s surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance, and pushing back against the great leader is not a way to get ahead,” Clapper said. “And so I do wonder what Kim Jong Un’s ignition point is, when some insult that’s been hurled at him by the president will just ignite him.”

.. The 25th Amendment that people bring up is a very, very high bar for removal, and appropriately so. And if that were to happen—and let’s just say for the sake of discussion there were an impeachment, even less likely a conviction—all that would serve to do is heighten the polarization and the divisiveness, because the base will never accept that, and that would just feed the conspiracy theories.”

Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood’s Oldest Horror Story

Nearly 80 years later, that aroma of perversion and maladroit du seigneur clings to Hollywood. Now we are inundated with grotesque tales of Harvey Weinstein pulling out his penis to show to appalled and frightened young women, enlisting the pimping help of agents and assistants to have actresses delivered to his hotel rooms, where he pestered the women to watch him shower or give him a massage or engage in intimate acts.

“The ill will towards him for getting away with it all for so long has unleashed something so primitive,” a prominent male Hollywood producer told me. “If people could rip him apart, they would

.. a man trusted by the Obamas to have their daughter intern at his company.

.. Often the actresses scrambled, trying to figure out how to get out of the room without having their futures shredded by the vindictive satyr, who also threatened to destroy actresses who balked at wearing dresses designed by his wife Georgina Chapman’s fashion label on the red carpet.

.. Min recalled attending the $400,000 speech Barack Obama made as an ex-president to an A&E Networks advertising upfront at the Pierre hotel in New York in April.

.. “There probably needs to be some introspection about how certain people who engage in horrendous mistreatment of women can co-opt the media,” she mused. “The fundamental predatory nature of Hollywood is young, attractive people — largely females — putting themselves in front of men to be judged and appraised and chosen.

.. In Hollywood, unlike at other Fortune 500 companies, the one-on-one meetings take place in hotel suites and bars. It’s an exploitative and oddly personal process.”

.. Harvey had proven time and again he could get you the Oscar that could make your career. It’s the difference between being in the reboot of ‘Saved by the Bell’ or getting 15 million for your next role.”

Hollywood is a culture that runs on fear. And it is not like other professions, one top entertainment executive said, because “no one comes with a résumé. It’s about what you look like and who sent you.”

.. There was resentment against Weinstein in Hollywood, not only for the stories bubbling around about women, but the way he humiliated men who worked with him. He even berated a 15-year-old girl at a screening because her parents supported a political candidate he opposed.

.. Like Trump, that other self-professed predator, there were complaints that in business deals he stiffed people on bills (advertising and public relations payments), and he had a reputation for lying, cheating, taking advantage, acting like a thug. Many in the film community felt he besmirched the Oscars by turning it into a marketing race rather than a contest of quality.

The Missiles of August

In reality, the Cuban missile crisis was the kind of scenario many of us feared could follow the election of Donald Trump: An inexperienced president gets elected on promises of toughness and flagrant lies, makes a series of bad decisions that provoke escalation from our foes, at which point political considerations make him feel he can’t back down, and suddenly we’re staring at nuclear war.

.. That’s basically the sequence of events that gave us the Cuban crisis, as Ben Schwarz pointed out in a revisionist Atlantic essay in 2013. Kennedy was elected after attacking Richard Nixon over a supposed “missile gap” with Russia that did not exist. He proceeded to fulfill his promise to Make America Tough Again with a series of poorly planned, Mafia-entangled, occasionally ludicrous attempts to unseat Fidel Castro, culminating in the Bay of Pigs disaster. At the same time, he went ahead with a plan to place Jupiter missiles in Turkey, a provocative gesture that made the Soviets suspect that we were looking for opportunities for a nuclear first strike.

.. When Khrushchev responded to this aggression and incompetence with the missiles-to-Cuba scheme, Kennedy decided that while the missiles did not place the United States in greater military danger (a nuke is a nuke whether fired from Havana, Russia or a submarine off the U.S. coast), they created an unacceptable political problem for his presidential credibility. Thus the escalation that followed — the quarantine, the invasion threat, the nuclear brinksmanship.

.. “success” required giving the Russians the strategic concession they had originally sought. The Jupiters were removed as well, but on a delayed timetable to allow the Kennedy White House to deceive about the crisis’ resolution. Meanwhile, American efforts to overthrow Castro diminished, and his regime endures today.

.. The weapons’ purpose is blackmail and self-protection, with no Cold War grand strategy involved. The U.S. military seems more likely to be a restraining force in this crisis than a hawkish one.

.. Meanwhile Trump himself is far more publicly unmastered and privately ignorant than J.F.K. But in fairness, Trump also has confined his real bellicosity to Twitter, without ordering any Kennedy-esque military misadventures or escalations yet.

.. My sense is that he would gladly — nay, eagerly — take a version of the deal that Kennedy ultimately struck: a bargain that looked better publicly for the U.S. than in secret, that allowed him to claim success even if the reality were different.

..  the concessions we would have to make to Pyongyang are unlikely to be kept secret.

..  can see the price of letting a U.S. president save too much face.

.. So it’s more likely that if we avert war, it will be because Trump is fundamentally a bluffer, who will issue threats on Twitter but won’t overrule his advisers if they tell him not to give an order that will leave hundreds of thousands dead.

Unfortunately, the bluster and incompetence will also probably make any deal worse than it otherwise might be.

But that’s the nature of the Trump presidency: You root for the least-bad outcome, knowing that the best one is probably already out of reach.

McMaster and the Challenge of Sharia Supremacism

Like his familiar bipartisan Beltway camp, he underestimates the threat.

.. Ms. Rice was in the job because she was simpatico with her boss’s developed worldview; he was not a work-in-progress she was tutoring.

.. That is not how either admirers or detractors on the right view President Trump. He is a transactional actor. Obama was a hard-left ideologue who, in the manner of the breed, pretended to be above and beyond ideology. Trump is an authentic non-ideologue. He goes by instinct, guile, and a degree of self-absorption unusual even inside a Beltway teeming with solipsists.

.. Reluctant Trump backers don’t project; they make the real-world calculation that, in this administration more than any before it, personnel is policy.

You get past your misgivings about Trump because

  • Pence, not Kaine, is one heartbeat away;
  • Gorsuch, not Garland, is on the Supreme Court;
  • Sessions rather than Lynch is at Main Justice;
  • the CIA is run by Pompeo, not Morrell;
  • America’s seat at the U.N. is filled by Nikki Haley, not Anne-Marie Slaughter;
  • the Federalist Society, not the American Constitution Society, is vetting judicial nominees;

and so on.

.. I was as energetic a naysayer on the pact as anyone. That, however, was because I understood that Obama’s objective was to change the facts on the ground so dramatically that no successor could undo the deal.

.. Personally, I would renounce it. I don’t get how the administration can bring itself to reaffirm the deal every 90 days (as the law mandates), since doing so requires saying two things that are not true: Tehran is in compliance, and continuation of the self-defeating arrangement is in our national-security interests.

.. McMaster does not really support the deal — he thinks it’s a lousy commitment we need to hold our nose and honor until we find an advantageous off-ramp.

.. Alas, as I pointed out during and after the campaign, this might be a sign of real resolve; or, in the alternative, Trump might have no idea what he was talking about — it might be another exhibition of his talent to sense the divide between irate Americans and their smug government, and to tell the former what they want to hear.

Islam must be seen either as

  1. a big problem that we have to work around, or
  2. a part of the solution to our security challenge.

I am in the first camp. McMaster seems solidly in the second

.. In the first camp, most of us do not dispute that there are authentically “moderate” interpretations of Islam (non-aggressive is a better descriptor). We recognize, however, that there is a straight-line nexus between Islamic scripture and Muslim aggression and — critically — that this aggression is not only, or even mostly, forcible. That is why “sharia supremacism” is more accurate than “radical Islam,” and by leaps and bounds more accurate than “radical Islamic terrorism.”

“Sharia supremacism” conveys the divine command to implement and spread Islam’s societal framework and legal system. It demonstrates that our quarrel is not with a religion per se but with a totalitarian political ideology with a religious veneer.

McMaster’s familiar bipartisan Beltway camp holds that Islam simply must be good because it is a centuries-old religion that nearly 2 billion people accept. Sure, it has scriptures ill-suited to the modern world, but so does the Bible. Bellicose Muslim scriptures have, in any event, been nullified or “contextualized” to apply only to their seventh-century conditions — just ask anyone at Georgetown . . . even if they don’t seem to have gotten the memo in Riyadh, Tehran, Kabul, Baghdad, the Nile Delta, Peshawar, the Bekaa Valley, Aceh Province, Chechnya, or in swelling precincts of London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Malmö, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Vienna, or pretty much anyplace else in the West where the Muslim population reaches a critical mass (roughly 5 to 10 percent).

.. Terrorists must, therefore, be understood as perverting the “true Islam” — indeed, they are “anti-Islamic.” In fact, they are best seen as “violent extremists” because Islam is no more prone to instigate aggression than any other religion or ideology taken to an extreme (you know, like those violent extremist Quakers). If more Muslims than other religious believers are committing terrorist crimes, we must assume there are economic and political explanations

.. The principal flaw in the second camp’s reasoning is that, by removing Islam as an ideological catalyst of terrorism, it turns terrorists into wanton killers. With the logic and aims of the violence thereby erased, also concealed is the cultural (or even “civilizational”) aggression spurred by the same ideology. This, in turn, diverts attention from the tenets of that ideology, which are virulently anti-constitutional, anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and corrosive of individual liberty, equality, privacy, free speech, freedom of conscience, and non-violent conflict resolution. To accommodate the ideology in the West is to lose the West.

.. On balance, besides their can-do discipline, modern military officers — especially warrior-scholars in the McMaster, Mattis, Petraeus mold — tend to be politically progressive and prudently cautious about the wages of war.

.. accommodations made to Islamists in places where we have no choice but to deal with them are not accommodations that should be made here at home. On our turf, sharia principles contradict our culture — as evidenced by the Islamists’ perdurable resistance to assimilation (see, e.g., Europe’s parallel societies).

.. accommodations made to Islamists in places where we have no choice but to deal with them are not accommodations that should be made here at home. On our turf, sharia principles contradict our culture — as evidenced by the Islamists’ perdurable resistance to assimilation (see, e.g., Europe’s parallel societies).

‘We’ve Had Enough’: Conservatives Relish the ‘Fury’ in Trump’s Talk

what many grass-roots American conservatives heard was not a brash provocation, but a brave and unequivocal calling out of a bully.

.. “I believe that this idiot over there is trying to make a name for himself,” said Mr. Yu’s friend Ralph Barbee Jr., 76, a Vietnam veteran and former host of a local fishing show who arrived at the Golden Corral in an S.U.V. adorned with stars, stripes and an enormous photo of Mr. Trump on the hood. “I believe if he fires one more missile, that’s the end for them.”

.. On Thursday, the conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh praised President Trump on his radio show for his display of machismo, contrasting him with his predecessor, Barack Obama.

“We don’t have a pajama boy who wears mom jeans who can barely throw a baseball, a first pitch, at a Nationals game, as president,” he said. “We have somebody out there who’s no-nonsense, and who’s not going to take this.”

.. “He needs to step all over that little twerp,” said John Stout, 71, who sat with three retired friends over coffee at the Sinclair gas station in Wiggins, Colo., on Thursday. The other men nodded in agreement. “If it had been me up there,” Mr. Stout continued, “I’d have done it a lot quicker.”

.. “Hell yes,” he said. “And they can pinpoint it to where they are not killing a lot of innocent people. That will be the big goal there.”

.. She said that Mr. Trump’s stance on North Korea is exactly what she was hoping for. “I think we have to go guns blazing and let them have it,” she said.

.. “I think he needs to send some SEALs in to take care of him. As a private matter. I think he needs to go after that guy, and nobody will know about it.” She trusts the president, she said. “Trump, he knows very well how to play his cards right.”

.. Austin Rhodes, 52, a conservative. Mr. Rhodes said that the president had limited oratorical skills, and compared him to the rock singer Meat Loaf: “No matter what he sings, whether he tries to sing a Meat Loaf hit or opera, he’s going to be Meat Loaf.”

But in this case, he said, perhaps Trumpian bluster was exactly what was needed in response to North Korea as well as a number of troubled Middle Eastern countries, Mr. Rhodes said. “You need to be ridiculously blunt. Maybe this is the guy for the times, because Obama was not.”

.. In an opening prayer, a woman asked God to help make America great again.

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